Tensions rise in ‘Splendour’ at Aurora Theatre

Four women in the president’s palace await him as revolution looms in the distance in Aurora Theatre Company’s Bay Area premiere of Abi Morgan’s “Splendour.”

They are Micheleine (Lorri Holt), his wife; Genevieve (Mia Tagano), a widow and her friend of 35 years; Kathryn (Denmo Ibrahim), the photojournalist assigned to photograph him; and Gilma (Sam Jackson), her interpreter.

As the sounds of battle draw closer, tensions rise, and each woman reveals more of herself, fueled in part by vodka laced with chili pepper.

The friendship between Genevieve and Micheleine is shaky; Sam, who’s from the rebel north, has a penchant for stuffing Micheleine’s possessions into her large overcoat; and Kathryn doesn’t trust the translations.

The revelations aren’t linear, though. Instead, a scene that ends with a broken vase is repeated several times, each with a different angle. Moreover, the language barrier between Kathryn and the others (all lines are in English for the audience) complicates matters.

Carefully directed by Barbara Damashek, it’s highlighted by strong ensemble acting. Holt, a longtime Bay Area favorite, is outstanding as her Micheleine tries to maintain her composure despite her fears.

The handsome set is by Michael Locher with lighting by Kurt Landisman, character-specific costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt and sound by Matt Stines.

Running about 90 minutes without intermission, it’s a fascinating, absorbing puzzle.

“Splendour” continues through July 23 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822.