Years in the Hundreds
"Years In The Hundreds" at Central Works in Berkeley is not what you expect. No matter what what you're expecting actually turns out to be, it's not that.
In this mystery of sorts by first time playwright Jesse Potterveld (that is, this is the "first professional production of his work"), two nearly-identical twin sisters have a variety of deep, dark secrets, some of which may remain a puzzle even when the show ends.
Now in their 80s, the pair live in semi-seclusion, operating under strict rules that only one leave the house at any time. They each assume the same identity in public, and they live in pronounced fear of anybody figuring out that there are actually two of them.
Jessie (Tamar Cohn) appears aggressive and free spirited but may be emotionally fragile. Ines (Anne Hallinan) comes off as both practical and hapless (she's convinced a routine colonoscopy is going to kill her), but turns out to be calculating and dangerous.
In fact, she's one shower murder away from being a Hitchcock villain. We should note that neither actor looks at all like the other, but it's one of those things you accept.
We won't reveal what's behind all this, although to be honest when the truth comes out it's not particularly shocking, and the gradual way the reveal happens may lead to confusion even after all the dirty laundry airs.
(Although it is at least nice to watch the story unfold and realize in the end that the how isn't going to overdo it on plot twists, though it easily could have.)
The delicate balance of the duo's secretive lifestyle comes into peril when Jessie falls in love with a younger man, a much, MUCH younger, as it turns out. She's probably owned cheese with more years on it.
Marcus (Adam Roy) appears to be a kind of beautiful idiot, and naturally, the audience sets to probing his motivations right away.
Although not an adaptation, this feels like another Gothic play by Central Works, along the lines of their previous "Jekyll & Hyde" and "The Yellow Wallpaper." Locked up secrets, multiple identities, isolation, people much too tightly entwined in each other's abnormalities, etc.
But it's not the plot that makes "Years In The Hundreds" engaging. Rather, it's the cast's oddball but genuine impressions of the characters, and the tension generated by the idea that everything you're watching is both utterly strange but acceptably normal at the same time.
The sisters live and speak as if the term "a world all their own" verges on being literal. Sometimes the eccentric way that everyone addresses each other is finicky, as in distractingly affected lines like, "A flicker of asymmetry, perhaps?"
But other times the word games are winners, like the graphic but gorgeous description of a bombing victim's dental fillings melting in the heat. (That's one to keep you up at nights. )
Ultimately what makes "Years In The Hundreds" good is that director Gary Graves guides it to a seemingly unlikely place where we can see how even the strangest things about it appear plausible and even semi-normal in the eyes of the characters. After which it all begins to feel humane.
"Years In the Hundreds" plays through March 26 at the City Club, 2315 Durant Street in Berkeley. For tickets and information, call 510-558-1381 or visit CentralWorks.org