Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Roan @ The Gates
Central Works
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Crimes of the Heart

Lauren Hayes and Jeunée Simon
Photo by J. Norrena
Sometimes very small things—a stolen kiss, a chance meeting of strangers, a storm that delays a journey—can create great drama. Conversely, sometimes huge things—as in the case of Christina Gorman's Roan @ The Gates' look at privacy in the age of the Internet—can fizzle, failing to live up to the inherent drama of the subject matter. The play is now in its world premiere production at Central Works.

The Roan of Roan @ The Gates is an NSA operative (played by Lauren Hayes) who, Snowden-like, has given massive amounts of classified information to a journalist and fled the country, hoping to obtain asylum in South America before the government gets wind of her actions. The night before her escape, which her wife Nat (Jeunée Simon) thinks is just another work trip, Roan is nervous and sick and asks Nat to tell her a story, almost like a mother tucking a child into bed. And like so many bedtime stories, this one has a moral lesson: raise your voice against injustice, and stand up for what's right.

It's therefore no wonder Roan thinks Nat might actually be supportive of her plan to expose a system of widespread surveillance and monitoring of American citizens. But it's one thing in the abstract to blow the whistle on those in power, it's quite another to face the reality of your spouse putting themselves at risk of a charge of treason, and winding up semi-stateless, trapped in the diplomatic no-man's-land of the Moscow airport. "When did I go to sleep and wake up in a spy novel?" Nat asks at one point.

The actors in this 70-minute two-hander bear none of the blame for its failures. They are focused and energetic, fully inhabiting their characters and exhibiting an easy chemistry that allow us to accept them as spouses. And, though playwright Gorman has done solid work on many levels (the characters are well-rounded, and the dialogue is crisp and natural), the play fails to engage mostly because it fails to adequately raise the stakes.

At the moment in the second scene in which we learn of Roan's actions, the stakes are set high indeed: dissemination of classified information can be charged as treason, a crime which can carry the death penalty. But despite the raising of emotional stakes, as Nat struggles to come to terms with what Roan has done to their marriage, the core peril Roan faces fails to build in intensity. Instead, Roan's situation gets a little bit better as the show goes on, even as her relationship with Nat slowly become more fraught.

Gorman also asks us to believe that Nat can leave the country, fly to Moscow, and find Roan without the FBI or other authorities following her. Though it's easy to imagine Roan—a bit of a super-hacker—can arrange for encrypted video calls and text chats, it's another thing entirely to ask us to believe the government would so casually overlook the travel of the wife of America's most wanted fugitive.

Central Works is to be applauded for their mission of being the Bay Area's "New Play Theater," committed to producing only world premieres. Even when the plays have work still to be done, being among the very first to see a piece of theatrical art always makes for an exciting evening. Here's hoping playwright Christina Gorman will find ways to raise the political/intrigue stakes in Roan @ The Gates so that it matches the building tension of the relationship between her two characters.

Central Works' Roan @ The Gates, through August 18, 2019, at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue, Berkeley CA. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 7:00 p.m., and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. Tickets range from $22-$38, with a sliding scale of $15-$38 available at the door. Tickets are available online at, or by calling (510) 558-1381.

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