Arts & Events

Theater Review: 'Enemies: Foreign and Domestic' by Central Works at the Berkeley City Club

Ken Bullock
Friday March 13, 2015 - 01:17:00 PM

"It never occurred to you that living with our mother--our mother!--might turn somebody against America!"

With that would-be wake-up call, Margaret Mary Mahoney (Central Works co-founder and co-director Jan Zvaifler in an often-funny yet harrowing turn) confronts her sisters Bridgett (Maura Halloran) and Kathleen (Danielle Thys) in their mother's home over the presence of a young Somali woman in hijab, their mother's caregiver Siara (Desirée Rogers), and what to her is the mystery of their terminally-ill mother's very recent and sudden demise without pronouncement or death certificate in the midst of the action of Patricia Milton's telling new play, 'Enemies: Foreign and Domestic.' 

Margaret Mary's an unemployed nurse, the self-proclaimed black sheep of the family whose return to the fold may be less a hopeful reconciliation, to pray with her mother, than to foul the nest. Her crusade to spew out the dysfunctional family sewage, documented in decades of diaries, has been cut short by mortality--and now the gamey crusader turns on her fellow survivors--and the demure but upright Siara--over the circumstances of death ... are they linked to a bigger, extra-familial conspiracy? 

The other two sisters are excellently portrayed, as are all four female characters, and round out the Family Romance, their mother in permanent absentia: Bridgett, the baby girl grown up with her own child and a violent husband at home, brandishing her copy of 'Catholic Remedies for Co-Dependents,' and overcompensating to make everything right, flashing a nervous smile when challenged; Kathleen, the dominating older sibling, practically a swaggerer, now employee of a private security company contracting with the government to resettle refugees from foreign places suffering "nation-building" or disintegration, hence Siara's connection ... After Kathleen declares "Let's forget about Bridgett's alleged molestation and think about happy memories!," Margaret Mary counters her big sister: "I don't think you can use your manual for US foreign policy!" 

But putative terrorist Siara's late husband, it turns out, was shot in the States, coming home from a farmers market; it's his Qur'an Mary Margaret finds on a sideboard. The facts of each case that comes up, whether of national or familial security, is fraught with contradictions--and that's the modus of this absorbing play, which is, after all, a comedy, not quite a door-slammer, but with many comings and goings while Desirée Rogers as Siara--in the tradition of the pert, prescient servant characters from Roman comedy through the Commedia and Shakespeare to Mozart's last operas and LaBiche and Feydeau--endeavors, constantly interrupted, to explain what really happened, each fragmentary edition seeming to contradict, even incriminate ...  

'Enemies: Foreign and Domestic,' performed in the round in the intimate salon of the Berkeley City Club--a space Central Works has played in much of its 25 season history, every inch of it creatively utilized by director (and company co-director) Gary Graves, the production team (with particular subtlety by music and sound maestro Gregory Scharpen) and the splendid, true ensemble--is like a gyroscope, spiraling down to the bitter truth, yet whirling out complexities of dialogue and gestural action, riding on a string of dark humor ... More than charity begins at home.  

Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 5 (a post-show talk-back on March 15) at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue, between Ellsworth & Dana. $28 online ( ), $28-$15 sliding scale at the door; Thursdays: pay what you can.