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    Some plays are less equal than others

    "Abundance" tries every way the playwright can think of to illustrate concepts of poverty and inequality, doing none of them well.


    In "Abundance," playwright Marty Pottenger takes a worthwhile initial concept — examining broad issues related to people's work, wealth and worth — and tries to do a little bit of a lot of different things with it, all of them inadequately.

    Company: Working Theater.
    Written by: Marty Pottenger.
    Directed by: Marty Pottenger, Steve Bailey.
    Cast: Cary Barker, Herb Downer, Joe Gioco, Thom Rivera, Nikki E. Walker.

    Related links: Official site
    Dance Theater Workshop
    219 West 19th St.
    Jan. 8-24, 2004

    Based partly on interviews with people from various strata of society, the play is hardly a play at all — it's a haphazard assemblage of barely related quotes and scenes from what could have been several different plays, none of them convincing.

    The show starts with actors making disconnected one-sentence statements culled from interviews. Some are plain and simple: "I made $20,000 and I owe that much to Brooklyn College." Others are funny or thought-provoking: "I grew up very privileged — which in India means we had a toilet, education and food to eat every day." But these mini-quotes are forgotten as quickly as they're uttered. The actors will be back at times to toss off more of these empty soundbites as the show goes on, but no deeper meaning will be sought or found in them.

    Most promising of the four recurring threads is a series of encounters in a sort of economics therapy group. The group members come together to talk about different aspects of their lives as workers, consumers and, in one case, a company owner. These scenes can be trite, but some of them do attempt to put a human face on something that characters like these might experience in the real world. One well-to-do woman feels poor while she and her husband juggle the mortgages on their several homes and their children's tuition money. The truly poor members of the group are stunned that she could consider herself impoverished, but the stress she feels is genuine. In other scenes that make something of their potential, the company owner ponders how to do the right thing for himself and his employees as his business struggles.

    The backbone of the piece, and the only actual drama in the whole theatrical grab bag, is also the most maudlin, worst-written component. It features a bitter old tycoon who's dying all but alone, abandoned by his wives and children and accompanied only by his long-suffering servant named Job. Strangely, the playwright has this miserly character recount the history of economic exploitation in America, connecting it to his precious art collection, which is projected onto the background as he speaks.

    Thrown in for expository purposes are several scenes in which a couple of garbagemen toss economic tidbits back and forth, sometimes with interesting effect, as when they illustrate differing amounts of money by pouring pellets noisily from one bucket to another. On the way into the theater, the audience is asked to fill in questionnaires about their income, debt and charitable giving, and these two read off the tabulated results later in the program. It's unfortunate that they don't do more with this information — there could have been some exploration of why people do or do not give away some of their money or how someone gets by on $3,000 a year, but other than a few pat interjections to break up the exposition, that doesn't happen.

    "Abundance" has two main faults — bad drama and bad economics. The actors spend too much of the play peppering the audience with isolated quotes and almost no time interacting with one another and getting to any deeper personal significance. Rarely do we have any sense that real people are talking to us. And its sloganeering about economics and inequality are based on almost no understanding. By the end one woman is screaming at rich people, "Stop spending our fucking money! It isn't your money, it's all of ours!" If that sums up the playwright's plan for the world, well, good luck with that.

    JANUARY 20, 2004

    Reader comments on Abundance:

  • search   from Anna Sidorenko, Mar 20, 2004

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