Pyrotechnics are a common metaphor for love, but the sparks that fly in prolific local playwright Lauren Gunderson’s new drama Fire Work are much more literal. The heroine is a young woman who makes fireworks, a trade she learned from her father, in a country where booms in the night are much more likely to be something deadly.
Now being given its world premiere by TheatreFIRST at Berkeley’s Live Oak Theatre, Fire Work is a love story of sorts, but it’s far more likely to chill your blood than warm your heart. That’s because it takes place in an unnamed land of bloody unrest and draconian “new rules” that don’t allow a woman to be seen outside of the company of a male relative—and in fact, not allowed to be seen at all without a garment that completely covers the body and face, except the eyes.
All of these details, of course, are reminiscent of very real places in the world, but Gunderson avoids any hint of exoticism. The characters have Western names and speak in American slang, with all the casual impieties that go along with that. In fact, there’s no reference to religion either. Women are not to be seen because it’s shockingly improper, or simply because they may be killed if other people find out.
Ana (winningly chirpy Rinabeth Apostol) is everything the faceless new regime can’t abide. She’s argumentative and opinionated, and she likes to wear casual, comfortable clothing and dance to classic rock when no one’s watching. And of course she practices a trade handling dangerous materials, which can’t help.
Also not helping is Ben (Aleph Ayin, unnervingly intense but charmingly awkward), a difficult client who veers suddenly from yelling at Ana for her unorthodox behavior to mooning over her like a giddy schoolboy. But as her gently chiding father warns her, the love Ben offers her is more burden than gift, and it’s a burden she can ill afford when the wrong move could easily get her killed or worse.