Patricia Milton’s latest play, “Bamboozled” is based on a true story about an antiques appraiser who allegedly defrauded a Confederate General’s descendant out of millions of dollars worth of Civil War heirlooms. In her program notes, Milton explains that what intrigued her wasn’t that, but why people cherish such mementos as heirlooms, the flag, and monuments from that era. Though her play doesn’t answer the question, it covers and explores the impact our past has in the present regarding our racist socio-economic and justice systems. Heavy stuff. Yet as in most of Milton’s plays dealing with complex, controversial issues it is by no means heavy-handed. Milton, herself a descendant of a Southern ancestor, manages to include plenty of humor in the dialogue which flows smoothly throughout and neither detracts from the issues her characters must deal with nor is it thrown in as gratuitous comic relief.
Director Gary Graves has assembled a strong cast of four women, Jeunée Simon as calm, placid yet determined Abby, the accused; Chelsea Bearce as Savannah, an attorney in her own right who has been relegated to being an assistant (and gofer) due to an issue that suspended her law license. Her “boss” is attorney Rochelle (played by Stacy Ross *, terrific Jody Foster-like in her intensity). Savannah telegraphs by word and action exactly how she feels about this. Then there’s Opal Anne, Abby’s accuser, a matronly, bigoted, bewigged (Costumes by Tammy Berlin) stereotypical Southern gal, played with finesse by a dead-on Susan Jackson. The women, hailing from the North, West and mid-South, meet in Rochelle’s sparsely furnished office in Collierville, Tennessee, to discuss the case. Opal Anne shows up later sans attorney, announcing in no uncertain terms that she will represent herself, thankyouveddymuch.
The pacing is fast, the dialogue smart, sassy, and snappy. But not so that one gets lost. And one need not know a lot of law verbiage to get what’s going on. Interspersed in the legal discussion are matters concerning race, history, slavery, social and family issues, politics (with a not so hidden reference to today’s climate with you-know-who in the White House) and of course, inheritance. An unseen character, young Caleb, whose involvement with Abby and shady dealings are mentioned which weigh heavily on the outcome. We discover what each character wants, but will their wishes be fulfilled? The family bible holds a secret that rocks Opal Anne. Will she and Rochelle ever see eye-to-eye?
“Bamboozled” is at Central Works, Berkeley City Club on Durant at Ellesworth, in Berkeley, through March 18. Go to: centralworks.org for more information.