Patricia Milton is on a cloud.
The prolific Bay Area playwright is currently running her new show “Enemies: Foreign and Domestic” at the Berkeley City Club through this weekend, closing Sunday, March 29th. Her play is an exploration of the secret wars that have taken place in Africa. And despite the seriousness of the subject matter, it is still a comedy, a story of three sisters and a mother who are at a crossroads.
The play is set in Somalia and focuses on the family dynamic, with clashes of culture and fierce sibling rivalries. To put it another way, the mindset of the play is that “counter-terrorism begins at home.”
What Milton is floating about is that the play has been a hit so far. She is thrilled by the fact that audiences have responded so positively, especially because the style of the writing is a departure for her.
“I had trepidation about the show, because it’s a very complex play, and you know, as an artist, you do your best and you hope people get it,” said Milton. “I wanted it not to be something people sit through and eat vegetables. It would be too dark, too intense.
“I’m really happy about the fact that people are responding to both the humor and kind of political ideas in the play.”
Those ideas are informed by the secret wars that Milton has learned about. Milton read that the United States has had military presence in 49 of 54 African states, which bothered her greatly. Despite the fact that there was such a heavy handed military in places such as Somalia, where her play is set, she was much more concerned about the violence that existed behind closed doors.
“There is a department of homeland security, but Mrs. Smith down the street can be terrorized in her own home and have very few resources to call upon,” said Milton. “There is such injustice or lack of resources for people who experience terrorism.”
In the context of Somalia, Milton was able to consult with a group of Somali women which informed her playwriting process. Those meetings gave her wonderful insight into these unique characters she penned.
“I was so grateful to learn so much about a country that has been on the receiving end of foreign intervention,” she said. “It was great to write a Somali character that was not a pirate or a terrorist. I’m very grateful to have put these characters out into the world.”
Milton certainly has used great discretion and sensitivity in creating the world of her characters against the backdrop of Somalia. She readily acknowledges her fears in creating a play such as this one, and has worked hard to get the story of these women right. The entire experience has been life-altering.
“It changed me a lot for a couple of reasons. First of all, I dove right into writing a Somali character and felt very challenged by and afraid of that,” said Milton. “As a white woman, I have seen a history of white people telling stories of people of color and getting it wrong. Because of this, I really wanted to be up for the challenge.”
Milton has been thrilled with the groups of patrons who have seen the show, and feels the venue has greatly enhanced the experience. The Berkeley City Club is a thrust house with audience on three sides. They are also very close to the proceedings; something that director Gary Graves made sure was a part of the staging. Graves, whom Milton credits greatly for championing the piece in order to get produced, worked hard to get the theme of the show to work very consciously with the staging in order to support what the play is saying.
“The audience is so close, so intimate, and there is not even a millisecond of a lapse of concentration,” said Milton. “The emotions run high, which can be very funny and just devastating. The space works beautifully for this play.”
For now, Milton continues to enjoy the shows she has left, sincerely grateful for every laugh and tear the audience shares.
“I would love to write love letters to these audiences,” she said. “It has been wonderful, and I have been really excited about it, both from the perspectives of making theatre and experiencing theatre.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Central Works presents “Enemies: Foreign and Domestic”
Written by Patricia Milton
Directed by Gary Graves
Through March 29th
The Berkeley City Club
2315 Durant Street, Berkeley, CA
Tickets range from $15 – $28
For tickets, call (888) 838-3006 or visit centralworks.org
For more information, call (510) 558-1381