By KEN BULLOCK
Special to the Planet
The thunderous sound of a cane’s concussion on the old, hollow walls of an Inland Empire home in the San Gabriel Mountains ushers in Central Works’ funny, unnerving revival of its 2002 hit original, Every Inch a King, playing at the Berkeley City Club. Wielding the cane is rubber stamp king Reginald Leroy, facing his demise from a panoply of geriatric ailments and signaling his three daughters in the next room that he’s still kicking.
As the title indicates, Gary Graves’ play has a special relationship to that great tragedy of age and familial disintegration, King Lear. What’s lifted from its forebears, though, is only the slightest pretext for outrageous comedy that might make Lear’s Fool blush. The three daughters, the acquisition and division of his kingdom, the loopiness and reported nudity of the old bastard are all there, but Central Works’ wild, bawdy tale fixes our bemusement on the daughters, not the unseen king of the hill.
And the daughters are quite a trio: Gwen (Sandra Schlecter), spinster schoolmarm whose prologue to her kindergarten students only touches on her glass eye; entrepreneur and dynamo Rae (company co-founder Jan Zvaifler), steely-eyed and determined to turn over the old man’s property to Disney and reap the profits; and aspiring medicine woman Leah (Rica Anderson), baby sister and loose cannon, ready to burst into spirit dance and chant at the drop of an attitude.
Through mutual recrimination, confessions, constant skirmishing and reflective moments of recollection, the three define, redefine and rip to shreds their sibling sorority, while the old bastard carries on, just out of our sight.
There are offstage chase scenes as funny as silent film can be in the telling. And the smallest physical humor of the sisters-at-odds provokes explosions of laughter, as do even the mere crossing of paths and evil glances during parallel phone conversations.
It’s a revival involving most of the original cast; only Jan Zvaifler, who directed the original run, is a newcomer in her role as Rae. This time playwright Graves directs, and very well, with Central Works’ signature stagecraft in the chamber theater of the Julia Morgan-designed City Club. Greg Scharpen is at his post with a panoply of sound effects, from storm to spooky visitations, and Chad Owens designed the set again, though the lights this time are by the author and the costumes are Tammy Berlin’s.
It’s a showcase for the marvelous talents of a theater company that knows its business and never disappoints.
EVERY INCH A KING
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 5 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 18 at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. $25-$29, sliding scale; Thursdays, pay-what-you-will. 558-1381. centralworks.org.