It’s always exciting to see a brand new play. Since Central Works only writes, develops and produces world premieres, one never knows what their evenings will bring. This time it’s Palace Wreckers, a new work that harks back to the ancient plot of a father’s suspicious death, a mother’s swift remarriage and the children’s thoughts of betrayal and revenge. Although similar accounts written in the 5th century BC by Aeschylus in Oresteia, and by Shakespeare in Hamlet are revenge tragedies, Palace Wreckers is billed as a “revenge comedy.”
Not exactly a laugh-out-loud comedy, the 110-minute (with a 10-minute intermission) Palace Wreckers, written and directed by Gary Graves (resident playwright and Central Works co-director) is nevertheless an absorbing and well-acted transportation of the timeless tale to 21st- century Nevada. Even the characters’ names are taken from the original by Aeschylus. The palace in this version is a dilapidated, cluttered isolated desert mansion where the family runs a failing auto wrecking yard.
As the action begins, Mother Carla (Jan Zvaifler) is shocked by the return after a ten-year absence of her son Oresteez (Khary Moye). He is accompanied by his sister, Electra (Regina Morones), who is also estranged from the hard-bitten Carla. Both Oresteez and Electra are wary of the young and strapping auto-yard worker Gus (John Patrick Moore), who lives in the house with Carla. They don’t believe Carla’s protests that Gus merely “rooms in the house.”
In a scene reminiscent of Ophelia’s mad scene, a disheveled Electra returns to the family home after wandering in nearby ancient caverns and caves, convinced that Carla and Gus have murdered her father, and tries to incite Oresteez to take vengeance. Meanwhile, all Oresteez wants to do is help his mother turn the junk yard into a solar farm. But the whispering, ghost-like sounds that echo throughout the house, the sudden summer lightning storm, lack of sleep and Gus’s sullen personality almost convince him. But this is a comedy, right?
Perhaps Palace Wreckers is billed as a comedy only in relation to the tragedies on which it is based. And, although there were some audience members chuckling at times on opening night, Palace Wreckers did not seem to be what one thinks of as a contemporary comedy. This fact did not take away from my enjoyment of the show, which was engrossing and involving, in part because the actors gave absolutely first-rate performances, especially Khary Moye and Jan Zvaifler.
The Central Works theatre in the Berkeley City Club lacks a true stage and holds only about 50 people at a time. However, the production, stage-managed by Vanessa Ramos, with costumes by Tammy Berlin, sound by Gregory Scharpen and props by Debbie Shelley, appeared and sounded like venues twice the size. The lightning storm and auto-wrecking sounds off-stage were particularly effective.
Palace Wreckers, Inc. is playing Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at the Berkeley City Club, the splendid Julia Morgan-designed building, at 2315 Durant Ave., through June 10,. Advance tickets are between $22 and $38 online, with a sliding scale of $38-$15 at the door. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Central Works online.