It’s not often that a local playwright takes on a tragedy; comedy’s easier to sell. Nonetheless, Jack Deveny’s Paloma reflects aspects favored by the ancient Greeks or even Robinson Jeffers, whose tragedies about fatally flawed families often were located in Big Sur.Though Deveny’s chosen an altogether different setting—two down-market bars in San Francisco, circa the 1980s—Paloma has all the familiar elements of tragedy. It opens with an old-timer, talking to ghosts about past feuds. Next, an overconfident scion announces he’s taking a gamble to reverse his faltering fortunes, despite warnings. Lastly, a rival son—who left bitterly, years ago—returns suddenly, reopening old wounds.
The story touches on cruelty in outward ways. One son has been caught up by a loan shark, who threatens him in several scenes. The other son is scarred by his service in Vietnam and has become a cold-blooded arms dealer in Latin America. Both sons loved the same woman and seek the child she bore.
Paloma is short—less than 90 minutes. At times, the conflict between brothers Harland (Jim Hollister) and Booth (Floyd Harden) could be sketched in greater depth. But the measure of any tragedy is its ability to transport its characters (and, with them, the audience) to the inevitable, destructive ending, leaving an ache in your heart. And director Vada Russell guides the production successfully on those points.
There’s no single, dominant performance, but there’s good acting from several in the cast, including Kendra Kambestad as a gutsy girl upstart and Shirley Sayers as world-weary Madge, pouring herself liquor before opening her bar.