Review: World premiere of Patricia Milton’s ‘Enemies: Foreign and Domestic’ at Central Works (****)

by Charles Kruger

(Rating: ****)

Enemies: Foreign and Domestic

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Enemies: Foreign and Domestic” plays at Central Works at the Berkeley City Club through March 29.)

Mary Mahoney was not a nice woman. When her daughter Margaret Mary (Jan Zvaifler) learns of her death, she immediately responds, “I thought nothing would kill that woman but a stake through the heart.” And that may be the kindest thing anyone has to say.

Before her death, she was cared for by the gentle but mysterious burka-wearing Siara Hashi (Desirée Rogers), a refugee from Somalia.

Margaret Mary has come to the mother’s home (before learning on arrival of the death) to confront her with the truth about her abusive parenting. Her sister Bridgett (Maura Halloran) has arrived in response to a call from Siara. Both sisters are clearly damaged. Margaret Mary is a walking fist of anger and hostility; Bridgett is a timid wisp of a woman, in terror of her abusive husband. They are clearly survivors of a horrendous upbringing.

The secretive Siara has her own survivor story. She barely escaped with her young husband from war-torn Somalia, only to have him shot to death in America by a crazed citizen who thought the vegetable he carried was a bomb.

A third sister, Kathleen (Danielle Thys), turns out to be working for the Department of Defense, placing Somalian refugees in jobs in America. That’s how Siara wound up working for minimum wage as a home health aide.

These various themes of abuse, escape and recovery weave together as the sisters and the refugee explore their various histories. The absent mother is represented by three pathetic looking dresses that hang by the fireplace, as the sisters argue about which one is to dress the corpse. Later, she is represented by a statue of the Virgin Mary that bears a striking resemblance to the young Siara in her burka. Motherhood — the two Mary’s (abusive old Mary Mahoney and the Holy Virgin), Siara’s invalid mother, and,  perhaps, America as abusive mother — comes in for some rough treatment.

This story of abuse and its consequences, foreign and domestic, is told in wickedly funny language. At one point, one daughter describes having been put to bed in a straight jacket every night for three years. The other daughter insists this was necessary to keep her from scratching herself bloody from eczema. “Yes,” comes the reply, “but did Mother have to sew it herself?” It is all very absurd, and Milton knows how to play it for laughs without sacrificing the serious implications.

Although difficult to summarize, ‘Enemies: Foreign and Domestic’ will keep you laughing, thinking, and completely engaged for its 90-minute running time. For its author, the prolific Patricia Milton, it marks a leap forward into the big leagues. Highly recommended.

For further information click here.

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“Enemies: Foreign and Domestic”, a world premire by Patricia Milton. Produced by Central Works Theater Company. Director: Gary Graves. Costumes: Tammy Berlin. Lights: Gary Graves. Sound: Gregory Scharpen. Properties: Debbie Shelley.

Bridgett O’Malley: Maura Halloran. Siara Hashi: Desirée Rogers. Margaret Mary Maloney:  Jan Zvaifler. Kathleen-Mahoney-Finch: Danielle Thys.

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