The Man Who Loved Women

Congressman Roy Armstrong loves women. As he’s quick to tell anyone who asks, being raised by a working-class single mother gave him a profound respect for women, and he’s made trying to pass the Equal Rights Amendment the chief focus of his political career.

Eric Reid and Gabrielle Patacsil in The Education of a Rake. Photo by Jim Norrena.

Unfortunately, he loves women a little too much for his own good. His attempt to back out of an extramarital affair to avoid a scandal during the best chance the ERA has had to be ratified in decades backfires spectacularly when his spurned lover Desiree threatens to release recordings of their intimate conversations on the internet just to spite him and to ruin his chances of closing the deal.

Wait wait wait, you may be saying: Equal rights for women? Enshrined in the Constitution?  That’s just crazy talk! And yes, sadly, the prospect of the ERA finally getting adopted is just a fictional device in William Bivins’s play The Education of a Rake, the latest new work created collaboratively by Central Works.

This Rake is a short little morality play, equal parts satire and melodrama, running only 70 minutes without intermission in the Berkeley City Club’s intimate space. It’s a fun play with various permutations of shit hitting the fan: between Roy and Desiree; between Roy and his wife, Joyce; between Joyce and Desiree; and most thornily between Joyce, Desiree and Roy, when both sides of the couple show up to try to talk sense into Desiree, unbeknownst to each other.

Eric Reid exudes confidence and charisma as Roy, a likeable, eloquent guy who makes going after women seem almost automatic when he sees an opportunity. When a starstruck assistant to a senator gushes at him about how much she admires him, you can see his whole posture change as he turns on the charm.

Gabrielle Patacsil gives Desiree a strong sensuality, though she’s not quite believable in the brittle rage that occupies her for most of the play. Of course, Desiree’s fury masks hurt and vulnerability underneath, but her venom comes off a little too much as play-acting, which in a way adds to the sense of frustrations when the grown-ups have to condescend to negotiate with her. (Desiree is in her twenties, while Joyce is supposedly fifty, though she certainly doesn’t look it. If Roy’s age is mentioned I must have missed it, though he comes off as a young, up-and-coming politician.) Patacsil also has a charming turn as the senator’s idealistic assistant, Gretchen.

Sally Dana also does double duty. Primarily she’s Roy’s husky-voiced professor wife, who’s settled into a sort of buddy relationship with him, living in separate cities, though not so much that she’s not furious when he tells her he’s been cheating on her again. Actually he doesn’t even have to tell her—his preface saying that he wants her to know he loves her is enough for her to know exactly what he’s about to say. But she also plays Senator Margaret Clifton, without whose vote the ERA hasn’t a prayer of passing. Her Clifton is all Texas swagger and amiability mixed with hard-nosed pragmatism about her conservative base.

There’s plenty of clever dialogue in the play. I especially like when Desiree complains that Roy never calls her “darling” like he does his wife. “I call you ‘baby,’” he protests, and she snaps, “‘Baby’ is entry-level.” It’s also delightful when Joyce winds up refereeing between Roy and Desiree like the mother of squabbling siblings and counseling him to do whatever it takes to save the ERA. (His career she cares less about at this point.) And it’s hilarious when Roy tries to make a date with someone new in the middle of doing frantic damage control for his last affair.

At the same time, the play does come off more like a thin scenario exploring the levels of sexism in a professed feminist than like a believable human drama. As likeable as the characters are, they’re more positions than they are people. Joyce’s debate about feminism with Desiree in particular comes off as very academic and artificial. There’s a lot of suspense built up when Roy’s temper frays, with tense thriller music gaining force in Gregory Scharpen’s sound design, which makes it seem pretty anticlimactic when we go finally see him angry.

Tammy Berlin gives everyone the slick, attractive clothes of people who are doing well for themselves. The room is made up to look very modern, with a crisp white carpet, two semicircular black faux-leather chairs, and a plain white painting over the mantel, resembling the one in Art. It’s not mentioned in dialogue or anything, but Gary Graves lights the painting different colors for different scenes, and at the end Roy stares deeply into it. So I’m guessing it’s supposed to have some kind of symbolic significance, but I’m at a loss to guess what that might be. But that’s true of the ending in general, which kind of fizzles out after all the bad behavior and high stakes leading up to it.

The Education of a Rake
Central Works
Through August 26
Berkeley City Club
2315 Durant Ave.
Berkeley, CA

Show #72 of 2012, attended August 5.

About author

No comments yet.

Be first to leave your comment!




Your comment:

Add your comment