Central Works opened its 58th world premiere this past weekend with Bamboozled, a play written by Patricia Milton and developed in the company’s Writers Workshop. The play like so many of Central Works’ creations is political, full of ironic humor and blessed with a twisty-turny roller-coaster plot.
The play takes place in a law office in a small town in Tennessee during February 2017. A young African American woman, Abby, has been accused of fraud by one of the local pillars of Southern womanly virtue, Opal Ann Hatchett, daughter of a Confederate general. Abby is an expert on Confederate Civil War memorabilia, and she had been asked by Opal Ann’s nephew Caleb to estimate the value of a trunk full of family heirlooms. She estimated it at $60,000. It later comes out that a museum bought the collection for $1,000,000.
Further digging finds the collection was delivered anonymously to the museum and the money wired into an anonymous and inaccessible account in the Cayman Islands. So where did the money go?
At the law office, Abby (Jeunée Simon) finds her would-be lawyer, Mr. Bright, has gone on a binge and is semi-comatose in his office, leaving her fate in the hands of Rochelle (Stacey Ross), an edgy Northern lawyer with a taste for showy controversy and cases that will put her face in front of a camera. Rochelle’s “well connected” – having slept with the court clerk (a she), and possibly Justice Franklin (also a she). But Savannah, her receptionist and general dogsbody, distrusts Rochelle. She sees Rochelle’s vision of herself as a lawyer as equivalent to “rolling up and smoking To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The smart, savvy and out-spoken Savannah (Chelsea Bearce) has her own issues with Rochelle, who was her lawyer when she was arrested for dancing with her hands on her girlfriend’s bum in a pub. Rochelle’s legal crusade led to Savannah’s own law license being suspended. Hence, Savannah’s lowly position in the law firm.
Oh, it’s ever so much more complicated than that though.
Outside, a Klan demonstration is going on, protesting the pulling down of a confederate monument. And inside the law offices, Opal Ann (Susan Jackson) appears, her purse laden with cosmetics and a gun.
Opal Ann is there to figure out Rochelle’s strategy, and to blackmail her. After all, Opal Ann is the person who has prevented Rochelle from joining the local Business Women’s Association, a networking opportunity that could save Rochelle’s teetering law firm … if Rochelle would only “join the church.”
Rochelle calls the Business Women’s Association “a terrorist organization.”
Opal Ann sniffs, “Ethics in a law firm?”
Savannah advises Rochelle, privately, to take a settlement.
Rochelle tells Abby, privately, that her strategy is to claim Opal Ann’s confederate allegiance is the greater crime. Abby replies, “Can we wake up Mr. Bright, because I think you are crazy.”
Opal Ann accuses Abby, Abby accuses Caleb.
Savannah asserts that Abby’s sin is like Eve, whose “original sin was to agree to have a conversation with a snake,” in this case, Opal Ann.
Somewhere along the line someone reminisces over having a lover who cooked heart-shaped bacon for her.
And then there’s the problem of the missing family bible …
It’s all funny, hectic and of the moment. Gary Graves directed. Props, sets and costuming are minimal but the venue and the fast-talking dialog are more than enough to keep the viewer engaged and on the edge of her seat.
Central Works’ Bamboozled continues through March 18. For tickets and information, visit centralworks.org.