Arts Listings

‘Blessed Unrest’ at City Club

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday October 30, 2008 - 10:07:00 AM

On the eve of an international trade conference, its convener, Simon Primo (Marvin Greene), finds himself unusually alone in his palatial mansion outside Geneva, his depleted domestic staff seeming to melt away as a big storm’s brewing. Alone, that is, except for a mysterious visitor, who interrupts Primo’s fractious telephoning and heart pill-popping: a woman in an elegant serape who introduces herself as Maria de Arroyo (Catherine Castellanos), but more insistently as his friend, asking to speak to him about the trade agreement to be signed the next day—and demanding he rescind the global accord he regards as the crowning work of his career. 

Alternately prepossessing and feverish, faint, De Arroyo insists on telling Primo the Inuit story of the Skeleton Woman. Then the visitor turns into a guide, taking her reluctant listener on a tour of past and present scenes, from the primeval beauty, then desolation, of Tierra Del Fuego just before and just after the European arrival, to the anti-WTO Riots in Seattle—to inner space, where in every human body “there are as many molecular reactions every day as there are stars in the sky.” 

Blessed Unrest, Central Works’ new play at the Berkeley City Club was adapted by Gary Graves from the work of environmentalist Paul Hawken. Graves directed and designed the lighting as well, making the play a pas de deux for its two well-cast actors, employing every inch of the intimate chamber theater as this conversation expands to be, quite literally, talking about the whole world. 

This is very much in Central Works’ tradition, just as the play itself was developed by the ensemble and production team, working together. It’s marked by Castellanos’ characterization of De Arroyo, a sense of determination underpinned by a vulnerable tenderness, Greene’s deadpan portrayal of the mannerisms of a challenged entrepreneur of economic diplomacy and Graves’ wit and skill as an adaptor, bringing more than Hawken’s material to the stage. 

Blessed Unrest is a parable, a kind of combo Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life for the environmental and anti-globalization movement. In this case, it’s not so much a glimpse of his own mortality that converts the (business) man, but the mortal danger his guide and guardian spirit, Maria de Arroyo as a kind of Gaia figure, is in. 

Among the many projections (Terry Lamb’s, with Gregory Scharpen’s sound design) are supertitles attributing the many quotes to everyone from Walt Whitman, John Muir and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Gandhi, U. Utah Phillips—and Paul Haw-ken. Even Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz gets a credit.  

The p.o.v. tends toward a reading of Emerson and Thoreau, though not Nietzche. It’s a little ironic that a movement which often questions the anthropomorphisms of Humanism should be represented by such a personification. It would be interesting to see something onstage that dealt with these same themes, but based on different homegrown voices, those often lumped together uncritically as prophets of environmentalism—like Whitman’s dark heir Robinson Jeffers, or Melville, who was critical, even satiric, of Emersonian thought, believing it to be a spiritualized form of the American cult of progress.  

Blessed Unrest 

Central Works at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave.Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun.  

5 p.m. through Nov. 23. 

Tickets $25-14 sliding scale at door, $20 online (pay what you can Oct. 30, Nov. 6)