Jeunée Simon, left, and Lauren Hayes appear in the premiere of “Roan @ The Gates” in Berkeley. (Courtesy J. Norrena)

‘Roan @ The Gates’ looks at whistleblower’s dilemma

Yet drama’s missing in Central Works’ production of Christina Gorman play

If you’re impelled to follow a dangerous path — for example, to be a whistleblower — how do you reconcile that mission with your commitment to a personal relationship? Such a conundrum presumably involves different thought processes for each individual.

It is the subject of Christina Gorman’s new play, “Roan @ The Gates,” the 64th world premiere for Central Works, a small, near-30-year-old Berkeley company.

Although the subject has been frequently explored in the arts, Gorman mixes in a few special ingredients: Roan, a white IT data manager at the National Security Agency, is in a longtime lesbian marriage with Nat, a black civil rights attorney, and is about to leave on a mysterious business trip abroad.

Equally mysteriously, she’s sick; later we understand why.

She also confesses, almost offhand, that she’s not ready to be a mother — a big topic that’s not sufficiently addressed.

More problematically, although more central to the plot, Roan isn’t exactly wrestling internally with her decision to sacrifice all by leaking classified NSA documents pertaining to national security to a London journalist — documents that reveal the extent to which the American government is compromising our privacy.

When the play starts (the first scene, it must be said, is exceedingly garbled and misleading), Roan has already decided to follow her conscience, seemingly without much inner conflict.

In fact, throughout most of the play, the arguments between the two women feel repetitive because we never get to see Roan actually struggling internally over the decision she’s made, a decision that separates her from Nat, perhaps forever, and that she’s kept secret from Nat (for Nat’s own good) for a long time. Until now.

Thus Nat (Jeunée Simon) has little to do other than yell hysterically at her wife with each new revelation, and Roan (Lauren Hayes) is stuck explaining her rationale earnestly over and over, brow furrowed with concern.

Part of the problem is directorial: M. Graham Smith hasn’t guided the actors toward enough tonal variety and nuance, and, in the confines of Central Works’ charming but restrictive playing area, places them too often standing face to face, static (in one long scene, I saw nothing of Hayes but her back and her long blond braid).

At other times, though, Smith and the actors beautifully realize Gorman’s clever staging concepts, and their Edward Snowden-like, no-way-out dilemma resonates. And Gorman gets the ending just right.

REVIEW

Roan @ The Gates

Presented by Central Works

Where: Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 18

Tickets: $22 to $38

Contact: (510) 558-1381, centralworks.org

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