“The Human Ounce” by Nicole Parizeau, directed by Gary Graves

(r-l ) Champagne Hughes as Jory; Kimberly Ridgeway as Biz; Don Wood as Dodge. Photo by Jim Norrena

Central Works in Berkeley presents The Human Ounce by Nicole Parizeau.

Gary Graves directs its 66th World Premiere, a short, three-person drama set after hours in a museum gallery.  It concerns a debate – more of an argument – between Biz, the museum director (the always excellent Kimberly Ridgeway), and curator, Jory (equally wonderful Champagne Hughes).  The women represent the epitome of sophistication befitting their positions, enhanced by costumer Tammy Berlin.  Without first consulting Jory, Biz has had the conservator,  mild-mannered Dodge (Don Wood), hang a painting of trees in foliage by a deceased artist who, it has been discovered, had been an accused sexual deviant.  Now, Jory insists the painting be removed and Biz refuses. Wood, though he has not as much to say as do Ridgeway and Hughes, is there even when not speaking.  He embodies a distinct presence as his character, Dodge, which is the mark of an accomplished actor.

The play is little over an hour and within that time, the dialogue between the women is philosophical, psychological, but mostly it’s about morals and where each stands on the issue of  condemnation, separating the art from the artist, and whether the painting should be removed.  “Art knows nothing of itself,” Biz states at one point.  Dodge is questioned on his views, but basically remains non-committal, leaving the women to work it out.  The playwright wrote for an audience well-versed in its knowledge of artists and their work.  Should it not, it may become lost or disinterested, but mindful of the dilemma and appreciative of not only the plot, but also Parizeau’s brilliant writing.   Biz and Jory discuss Picasso, Degas, and other artists with questionable sexual relationships with women.  The matter of the painting is resolved when Jory makes Biz aware that she knows that Biz had engaged in personal matters involving illegal quid-pro-quo where museum money was involved.  In turn Biz has something on Jory.  They reach an amicable resolution and the three are pleased with their final decision.

Should you go to see The Human Ounce, if you are unfamiliar with the space (even if you are), it is best to sit either at the end of the U-shaped performance space or on the side below the windows.  Unless the direction has changed, Dodge delivers some of his speeches near the entrance.  So if you sit on the near side, you can hear but can’t see him. A bit of action takes place here, as well, so it’s best to sit on the far side of the space.  In any case, I am always impressed with Graves’ direction and lighting, working with Gregory Scharpen and Debbie Shelley with sound and minimal props in their productions.  So much is done in the small space. An upholstered settee in the middle and painting(s) hung on the far wall are all that’s required for The Human Ounce.  No distractions.

The Human Ounce has been extended to March 22: Thurs (pay what you can) through Sunday.  Please visit the website: CentralWorks.org for tickets and information.  Call 510-558-1381; BART to Downtown Berkeley; AC Transit F Bus from San Francisco stops on Shattuck and Durant. Central Works is in the Berkeley City Club at 2315 Durant St. in Berkeley.