“Roan @ The Gates” by Central Works

“Roan @ The Gates” by Central Works

Carol Benet

Central Works is a small theater troupe that produces its interesting works in the beautiful  Berkeley City Club.  

The Club  is an historic building on 2315  Durant Avenue a few blocks west of Telegraph Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus.  It itself is worth a visit because it was designed by Julia Morgan in 1927 and serves now as a hotel and social cub.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Besides its exquisite indoor swimming pool reminiscent of Morgan’s pools for the UCB campus and Hearst Castle, there is a large room used by a small theaters with three rows on three walls around a fourth that is a kind of stage. This theater was home to the Aurora Theatre before it moved to its own space on Addison near Shattuck. Berkeley is a lively theater hub with the Berkeley Rep, the Aurora, Shotgun Players and Central Works.

The space has only  50 seats. This is perfect for Christiina Gorman’s “Roan @ The Gates”, a political thriller. Taking place in a 6-week time frame, it is the travails of a lesbian couple. It is loosely based on the story of the former government contractor Edward Snowdon’s scandal where he leaked  to the press classified documents about the NSA’s monitoring activity in 2013.

But playwrights like Gorman have imagination and she has changed the story to  feature a married couple, one of whom, Roan is a computer data manager, a senior cyber specialist,  working on systems with sensitive information as in the Snowden case.  Gorman has made the couple a lesbian one with Roan the contractor and Nat, short for Natalie, the black lawyer who is working on a wrongful dismissal and discrimination case. Roan is detained by the Russians who will use her later for their spying demands or as a pawn. One way to know what the play is about is to see its hash tag “#MyWifeIsAWhistleBlower” that tells it all.

The first short scene is at their home in Alexandria, Virginia, where Roan is perhaps suffering from food poisoning.  Nat tries to find out more about her last assignment and Roan does not give any information where in the world she flies and why.  Nat is exasperated and the next short scene they are in an airpot.  This change like those that follow are merely made by removing a couch or adding a few different items of costume (Tammy Berlin) .  

Next Nat has tracked Roan down to a room at an airport where she is being held captive and later they are in Moscow.  Roan is principled about her work and declares that she wants to expose the fact that the US is employing the information that she is manipulating to “spy on its citizens”. These are statements right from Snowden’s defense.

The intrigue here though goes beyond the Snowden story.  It is mainly about a married lesbian couple where one is trying to save the other so she won’t fall into the service of the Russians.  Nat  explains to Roan that the Russians discriminate against both lesbians and blacks, apt descriptions of this couple.  Another twist is that Nat has been put on “leave” from her law case on wrongful dismissal because of all that is going on with Roan, it is “too distracting” for her firm.  

This riveting play moves quickly through the 70 minutes without intermission.  It is well-directed by M. Graham Smith and features two excellent actresses Jeunée Simon as Nat and Lauren Hayes as Roan.  Lights by Gary Graves and sound by Gregory Sharpen argument the tense situation.

“Roan @ The Gates” produced by Central Works, a troupe in existence for 29 years, is a world premiere in association with Luna Stage.  It runs at the Berkeley City Club through August 18.  centralworks.org  or 510 5588 1381.

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →