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|A CurtainUp Review
The premise as described in the press release for Mary Pottenger's Abundance sounded promising: a multi-media play in which five actors would explore American attitudes towards wealth -- "how much do we have? how much do we need?" -- through three interwoven narratives. The texts from over 250 interviews with construction workers, government officials, scientific engineers, bankers and other New Yorkers would be integrated with original text.
Unfortunately, Abundance is drowned in an over-abundance of statistics, its presentation is repetitious to the point of tedium, and its message delivered with a hammer. While the actors can't be faulted for their performances, they are hobbled by material that fails to resonate with the power of documentaries like The Laramie Project, The Exonerated and the various issue-oriented theater pieces by Anna Devere Smith.
Perhaps a balladeer-narrator would have helped to cloak Ms. Pottenger's undisguised polemics into more of a play and less of a high school assembly program or, at best, a dramatized Master's thesis. As it is the three narratives not only fail to tell any informed audience member anything really new but fall miles short of the dramatic heft of its above-mentioned stylistic predecessors.
One of the three narrative strands puts the methodology used to create what Pottenger calls "The Abundance Project" on stage-- recreating the project's "civic dialogue group meetings" with the five performers seguing between nine New York characters across the economic spectrum, each taking turns to tell his or her tale of financial woe (a cancer victim without money for health coverage, an upper middle class woman with extensive real estate holdings but even more extensive debts, a father who finds himself caught in a lie in an effort to teach his children a money lesson, etc.). This on-stage dollar-oriented group therapy quickly wears thin. The two other narrative strands are duets. The first, traces the long-term relationship between a crippled billionaire (this rich man's deterioration is no doubt intended to have metaphoric significance) and his manservant which leaves you wonder why the obviously bright Ms. Pottenger couldn't fish a less cliched situation from her pool of interviews. These segments do afford Herb Drowner and Joe Giaco a chance to display their acting chops. The other two hander features a pair of sanitation workers who have assiduously collected economic statistics along with the city's debris. These street-sweeping statisticians are intended to be a comic link connecting the economic therapy sessions and the billionaire-manservant interludes.
Mimi Lien's set works well but the video projections by Ed Hanna and Jeanne Finnerty do little to enhance the "story" or give it a cutting edge. The credit for "choreograhy" evokes a "huh?"
In the final analysis, Abundance looks and feels like a play, but is essentially a well-intentioned thesis on distributing wealth more fairly. You see, plays are written with words not numbers, and all the statistics in the world can't give Abundance the sturdy dramatic legs it needs to survive as a compelling theatrical vehicle.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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