Arts & Events

Theater Review: 'Education of a Rake' by Central Works at the Berkeley City Club

By Ken Bullock
Sunday August 12, 2012 - 11:29:00 AM

"You're dumping me for the ERA and your wife?" 

"The kind of thing you get crucified on Facebook for ... " 

William Bivin's script for 'Education of a Rake,' as staged by Central Works through their unique collaborative process, follows Congressman Roy Armstrong (Eric Reid) as he attempts to find a little domestic tranquility on the verge of his push to revitalize the Equal Rights Amendment—by telling his mistress Desiree (Gabrielle Patacall) they have to cool it till the campaign's over. But "we can text each other!" 

Starting with this confrontation—something ludicrous, if exaggeratedly normal, by D. C. standards—it begins to go ballistic after both Desiree and Armstrong's wife/mentor Joyce (Sally Dana) fly off the handle—bad in Desiree's case, as she reveals there's a very intimate phone tape she's ready to go public with ... 

(Desiree, as Joyce later realizes when she confronts her—with a start—seems to have fallen for her Congressional squeeze, resenting his endearments to his wife, whom he calls "darling," versus "baby" for Miss D. "Baby's entry level," she complains.) 

The dialogue's consistently amusing, often pointed—but the real theatricality, what separates the play from, say, a better than average rerun of 'The West Wing,' is in the direction by Central Works cofounder Jan Zvaifler, and in the doubling of the women onstage into two roles each—Dana also plays Senator Margaret Clifton, with a Texas drawl—and a bright red suitjacket, the sole efflorescence of the play (Tammy Berlin's excellent costumery)—and Patacall plays her office girl—an intern, perhaps?—Gretchen, whose adoring words catch Roy's ever-roaming ear ... 

And in the character and dual reactions to everything of Joyce, a real "political operative" if there ever was one. When Roy reveals the affair, ready to go media viral, to her—not his first peccadillo as we see—she quickly swerves between releasing her pent-up rage and hyperfocusing on the tactics needed to escape or ease the situation, with a kind of fascinated glee. 

(In this, as in her performance as a whole, Sally Dana's superb, from the moment she enters in loungewear, holding champagne glasses to greet Roy home, unaware yet what's brewing, to her high-heeled walk after the latest grimace at her errant man ... The role's the motor of the play—Joyce serving as in-person go-between, hilariously, in the final confrontation between Roy and Desiree, and Dana makes the most of it, elicitinging even better performances from the others, together with Zvaifler's spendid staging and direction, that uses every bit of the old salon at the City Club Central Works calls home ... ) 

In an Election Year—and after the death of Gore Vidal, almost inexplicable before the post-Labor Day heat of the campaigning—Bivins' play as realized by Central Works is a refreshing, toss-off cynical entertainment with some soul to the Washingtonian haze of personality—and literally backroom dealing. It would stand up decently beside Vidal's savvy 'The Best Man.' which Aurora staged convincingly (and hilariously) a few years ago. Everybody brings something to the show, from the cast (all fist-timers with Central Works, but with experience in Bivins' previous plays—Reid with several lead roles already under his belt), to cofounder Gary Graves' lighting, to Greg Scharpen's excellent music track and sound effects. 

Will Roy Armstrong save his marriage? ... Keep his concubine? ... Save his career, or prove his lifelong dedication to the ERA by resigning? ... Will he call that cute intern again? Tune in at the City Club! 

Central Works at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue (near the UC campus), Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 5, through August 26. $25 in advance; $$25-$14 sliding scale at the door. 558-1381;