Review: Resurrection Theatre’s Balm in Gillead

Showtimes: Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm. Through 4/7; Wilkerson Theater, 1723 25th Street; $15-20; (916) 491-0940.
Rated 4.0

If you’re the kind of person who goes to a bar or restaurant to watch the other patrons, Balm in Gilead is the play for you, here presented by Resurrection Theatre Company at the California Stage, directed by Margaret Morneau.

This is a difficult play to get into, as it has overlapping dialog, simultaneous scenes and mostly unlikable characters. It takes place in a seedy bar populated by drug addicts and dealers, prostitutes (male and female), transvestites and thieves.

To complicate things, there are 30 in the cast; all are listed by name in the program, but only a handful are ever called by name in the script. Trying to figure out who is who is pretty much impossible.

That said, there’s an electricity to the play that makes it oddly compelling and entertaining.

The central characters are Darlene (Jennifer Berry), a good-hearted prostitute freshly arrived from Chicago, and Joe (Vernon Lewis), a drug dealer with whom she becomes infatuated. While talking with Ann (Aviv Hannan), a world-weary hooker, about her own past in Chicago, Berry delivers what may be the longest monologue I have heard. It’s a tour de force, but I was perhaps even more impressed with Hannan, who played the scene as someone trapped listening to a monologue when she would prefer to be anywhere else.