Review: World premiere of “Escape from the Asylum” at Central Works (***)

David Maier’s exciting and hilarious fight choreography with umbrellas is a comic highlight of Central Works world premiere of “Escape from the Asylum.” From L to R: Danielle O’Hare and Chelsea Bearce as “lady detectives”  Loveday Fortescue and Katherine Smalls. Photo Credit: Robbie Sweeney. 
by Charles Kruger
Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.
Playwright Patricia Milton first introduced the “Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective” as a successful world premiere at Central Works back in 2019. They return quite happily in 2022 as Jan Zvaifler and Chelsea Bearce reprise their roles as Valeria Hunter and Katherine Smalls while Danielle O’Hare capably takes over for Stacy Ross in the role of Loveday Fortescue. Rounding out the cast, Alan Coyne is once again hilarious in multiple parts. The three feminist detectives are as smart and liberated as ever, along with Playwright Milton’s celebrated wit. In “Escape from the Asylum” the detectives set out to free a famous “lady explorer” who has been committed to an asylum by her controlling husband, with the absurd diagnosis of a “wandering uterus.” It is clear that the husband is interested in controlling not only his wife but her substantial financial resources. Coyne is hilarious not only as the pompous husband, but especially as Dr. Floran Von Grabstetter, the psychiatrist who has invented a machine to diagnosis the “wandering uterus” with its serious complication of causing the dangerous ailment of women “thinking alone.” Coyne has a ball with this, and so do we. When the three lady detectives set out to fool Dr. Von Grabstetter with a fake seance in which Valeria Hunter, played by Jan Zvaifler, pretends to be a trance medium, the comedy leans even more delightfully into the ridiculous as Jan Zvaifler has a chance to demonstrate her always impressive comic chops. In the denoument, the playwright has great fun in presenting a classic “closed room” puzzle, so beloved of the detective story genre. It is a good one, cleverly solved. The play is full of Patricial Milton’s typical blend of puns, political satire, and scholarly feminist insight, all played for laughs and maximum damage to patriarchal pomposity. The pace is kept bouncing along by Director Gary Graves, and the other design alignments serve the production well. Good fun, thoughtfully packaged! “Escape from the Asylum” continues at the Berkeley City Club through April 17, 2022. For further information or to purchase tickets, click here. Rating: ***(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.) ____________________________ “Escape from the Asylum” a world premiere by Patricia Milton, produced by Central Works. Director: Gary Graves. Light Design: Gary Graves. Sound Design: Gregory Scharpen. Prop Design: Debbie Shelley. Fight Choreography: Daid Maier. Costume Design: Tammy Berlin. Wigs: Michael Berg. Cast:  Chelsea Bearce: Katherine Smalls. Danielle O’Hare: Loveday Fortescue: Alan Coyne: Constable Crane et al. Jan Zvaifler: Valeria Hunter. 

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