Friday, October 24, 2014

Affluence by Steven Peterson

By Joe Straw

I’m sorry if this offends.  I had to do it this way. After all, this is a blog, and you know it’s all about growing.   – Narrator

“Robert Woodley, Jr. (Lloyd Pedersen) and Jean Woodley (Rhonda Lord) have been residing there since God knows when.  No, well, since they got married, twenty somethin’ years ago.  He didn’t make his money, the way his father did, and they were given the house by his father and his mother, Namoo (Nan Tepper) - funny name.

“And, funny, I can’t remember the father’s name.  He was about a decent as a fellow could be though.   

“Robert Jr.’s folks moved down the road a piece, as they say in the south, into a little poke of a place, a little poke filled with money.   And Robert, Jr., with his job at the bank, made waves wanting to establish the family as someone with affluence.

 Affluence – Noun - abundance of money, property, and other material goods; riches; wealth –

“Things were going fine until they had their son, Arthird (Justin Huff), well that’s what everyone called him.  His real name is Robert III, carrying down the legacy, if there was one to carry down, ‘cause, truth be told, I doubt there’s going to be a IV. He’s kind of slow, and there’s no female prospects on any kind of horizon you can think of, land, sea or air, if you cared to think about it, which I don’t. About the only thing he can do is play with them video games.  He hardly looks up to talk to you when you pass him on the street.

“Arthird is only there to annoy his sister, Beanie (Ilona Kulinska). They call her Beanie because one, no one remembers her name, folks included, and b, that’s what Arthird called her when she came home from the hospital: ‘She looks like a bean.’ Cute.

“But I know it’s really Barbara.

“In any case, Beanie is graduating high school and wants to go to a very nice college and waiting for that very letter of acceptance on this Boxing Day.  That’s the day after Christmas, in case you didn’t know. She’s kind of stuck up and never says hi to you at Starbucks, especially when she’s with her stuck up friends. That’s what money ‘ill do to you.

“I’ve smelled trouble in that house for some time now. Robert, Jr. lost his job, no wait a minute; I think the Feds came in and took his bank away, is what I think.  

“Namoo moved back in after her husband died.  I’ll still can’t remember his name. She’s been feeling ill for some time now and just got out of rehab or assisted living where I heard Jean, her daughter-in-law, got in trouble stealing her pain medication, or the medication that was in the assisted living space.  In fact, there’s a lawsuit against Jean and I don’t know but I hear they will settle or she will go to jail.  But you know, white folks don’t go to jail.  Ha, ha, ha.

“Would you push up the glasses on my nose?  My hands are all tied up. Scratch, right there. Thanks.

“Jean claims she’s all innocent and Robert, Jr. says their legal bills will be astronomical. They may have to sell the house, lose their affluence, and live like normal people, like you and me.  Ha. Ha. Ha.

“In the meantime Jean, who suffers from severe migraines, has to stay out of drug trouble. Lawsuit.  I seen her with a frozen bag of corn slapped to the side of her head from the window.  That’s the funniest looking thing but, bless her heart, she can’t help it she’s in so much pain.

“Because of the lawsuit, Jean cannot help her mother-in-law with her pain medications.  For that, they have hired Inez (Christine Uhebe) who lives with them taking care of Namoo and other things around the house. Probably folding laundry like I’m doing now.

“And one other thing, Inez takes care of is that big lug, Arthird. There’s something about love being said there but I don’t believe it.  She’s one of them “illegals”.   And I don’t see anything good coming out of that.  Scandalous.

“One last thing, I don’t know if this is true or not, because of the change in the tax law, Namoo has to die before New Years Day if they are to save the inheritance tax money they would otherwise pay out, and she ain’t looking too healthy right now.  It wouldn’t surprise me if something terrible would befall on her, by accident, before the year’s up.

“That’s about all I know.”

“ I’ll give you my card.  If you have more information please don’t hesitate to call.”

“Hmmm, what do I call you? Agent, detective, Mr.?”

“Any title will do.”

Affluence by Steven Peterson is/was extremely tantalizing.  This wonderful new comedy, winner of The Beverly Hills Theatre Guild’s 2013 Julie Harris Playwrighting Award, is a fantastic play that has unfortunately closed October 20, 2014 at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills.   

Larry Eisenberg, the director, has gathered one of the finest ensembles of the year. One can only marvel at listening to the private conversations of characters, the day after Christmas, mind you, who whisper and conspire to dastardly deeds?  The superior actors leave you breathless as you move from one intense moment to the next.  This is a testament to the Eisenberg’s skillful direction in one of his finest works to date – one in which intimacy, from this venue, plays an important role.    

This show was wonderfully Produced by David Hunt Stafford.  And the celebration begins when one enters the theatre and appreciates Jeff G. Rack’s Set Design, which is marvelous and sets the tone for this particular point in time – Boxing Day 2010.  

Lloyd Pedersen plays Robert, Jr. and is wonderful in the role.  Robert has lost his job and has little prospect of getting another because of his age. He hopes someone dies before midnight so there will not be huge lost in estate taxes, which kick in after midnight.  Ultimately, the character is a scoundrel – only hoping for the best, meaning the best for him, including having his sights on the help.  It is because of his seditious wants that he incites the members of the household to do his bidding.

Rhonda Lord is brilliant as Jean.  Jean has a lot of problems and one of them is her addiction to pain medication, which has gotten her into a lot of trouble, as well as her family.  Jean is ruthless, kind, despicable, loving, and in a lot of pain.  She stops at nothing to get what she wants.  Lord is an actress with impeccable skills and truth on stage.  There is a supreme naturalism to her work as she glides effortlessly from one moment to the next for which you cannot take your eyes off her for one single moment.  

Justin Huff is exceptional as Arthird. There is more to this character than meets the eye. Arthird still lives at home and has no job prospects. He is a sad lot. Despite the fact he has his head in video games, things in life come naturally to him, like the help.  He keeps that relationship under wraps until he is caught.  And when he is caught, he tries to hide the relationship until he feels the time is right to release the information, what with grandma dying upstairs, and the lawsuit, and the people who are in pain throughout the house. Huff’s relationships with his sister and grandmother are impeccable but one hopes for a stronger bond with his mother and father. Still it is a fantastic role and one in which Huff fills with exceptional viva.

Ilona Kulinska, who plays Beanie, is an exceptional actress. She has a natural charm that translates well to the stage.  Beanie hopes to get into the college of her choice and because of her family’s influence, she believes she is entitled.  She is the smartest sibling and the hopes of her family rides on her getting into a reputable school.  Also, Beanie is a bit of a pest about getting things the way she wants while there are other pressing family problems that need to be addressed. This is a wonderful role for Kulinska who excels in dramatic fashion.

Nan Tepper has a wonderful role in Namoo and does a great job with the role.  She is perfect for this role and one hopes that, in the theatrical sense, she “breaks a leg” during the course of the run.  One hopes that after the run she is still in one piece.  But kidding aside, she was marvelous.

Christine Uhebe is Inez and is perfect for the role.  There is a lot going on with Inez.  She has to fight off the dad, fight off the mother, take care of the grandmother, and please the son, and then keep it all under her hat. That’s a heavy load to carry but Uhebe carries the roll in remarkable style. The scene with the “patches”, done with so much sincerity and naturalism had me on the edge of my seat.

Richard Garner as plays Arthird but did not perform on the night I was there.

Larry Eisenberg, the director, does an excellent job.  This is the finest work I have seen from him to date. There is a moment, near the end, where a voice calls down from upstairs, which requires impeccable timing and was probably missed on this night and maybe requires a little misdirection so that we are absolutely not sure who is calling from upstairs.    

Steven Peterson, the writer, has written a magnificent play with the grand theme of affluence, caring for the aging, and of the unparalleled perfidy of those left in charge all in the name of keeping a certain lifestyle.

Instead of a “Who done it?” it’s more like a who’s going to do it?”  As all of the characters have a steak in the game of affluence. 

While the characters in this play are all part of the fait accompli, they are just not all moving in that direction or at the same pace.  This makes the play all the more enjoyable.  Not on the surface, but underneath, each person is striving for a favorable resolution to their own personal problems caring little for how that gets resolved.  Some characters are more despicable than the others.  Robert Jr. pleasantly throws out the ideas without having the audacity to be a physical partner to his thoughts of crime.   The others are silent but secretly willing to physically implement his ideas into action. At the end of the first act, they watch silently as Jean slowly dials 911. And one can only look to see if the children are really innocent bystanders.  Arthrid dancing with the grandmother seems like an innocent thing, at first glance. But, looking back, maybe that act was helping things along.

One of the interesting things about the ending is that the children don’t come to a resolution.  They are missing from the final conclusion from a reaction we desperately need  (I need.)  Certainly one needs a reaction of how things fell in their favor, or did not fall in their favor at all. That’s just me.  I need a little more closure.

But this takes nothing away from the show, which I thought was marvelous.

Michele Young did a marvelous job as the Costume Designer.   

Ric Zimmerman Lighting Design cast a very somber mood for this comedy but one which worked tragically well, all things considered. 

Other members of this marvelous crew are as follows:

Vesna Tolomanoska – Assistant Director

Don Solosan – Stage Manager

Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski – Sound Design

Michele Bernath – Dance Choreographer

Tanya Wilkins – Fight Choreographer

If you ever get a chance to see a production of this play – Run! Run! Run! – And take someone nearer to God than thee.

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