Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Review
Money, money, money. Always money. . .It's a rich man's world
-- sung variations of this money refrain mark transitions between scenes of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's mix of Victorian morality play and Dickensenian comedy.
The Storm Theatre, which previously revived Don Boucicault's The Shaugraun, about a merry rogue much like the author, has now revived another Victorian era relic, Money, by the more serious minded Edward Bulwer-Lytton. A reform-minded member of Parliament, Bulwer-Lytton, like his friend Charles Dickens, was full of fury about the divide between rich and poor. He also loved the things money could buy and it was to support his fashionable tastes that he took up literature (shades of Jeffrey Archer). This love-hate relationship is reflected in Money, and strikes a nice balance between entertaining comedy and social commentary.
The theme of money's effect on all human relationships is hung on a typical Victorian drawing room comedy plot -- replete with misunderstandings, audience asides, comic mugging, and predictably all's well that ends well romantic entanglements. The penniless Alfred Evelyn (Peter Dobbins, the company's artistic director) is the unpaid and little respected secretary to his social climbing cousin Sir John Vesey (Stephen Logan Day) a social climber who has duped London into thinking him rich and therefore important. When Evelyn inherits a fortune from a distant relative, Vesey promptly seeks to become his father-in-law.
But Vesey is not the only one to jump on Evelyn's bandwagon. Tradesmen and politicians seek him out. Evelyn, having been rejected by Clara (Elizabeth Roby), the companion to Vesey's likeable sister, Lady Franklin (Suzanna Geraghty). Clara's rejection was not for lack of love but because she feared a marriage without money will be a drag on his life as it was for her father. With the Clara romance finished, Evelyn is almost persuaded to marry the scatter-brained Georgina (Colleen Crawford). Georgina, while as greedy as her father, much prefers the foppish (but not wealthy) and lisping Sir "Fwedwick" Blount (Brett Hemmerling). A third romance demanding a happy ending involves Georgina's aunt, the merry and inclined to marry Lady Franklin and the chronically bereaved widower Sir Henry Graves (Laurence Drozd). As if these romantic subplots, weren't enough there's yet another plot thread for Bulwer-Lytton to vent his anger about the corruption of politics and society.
This is not a play for those looking for cutting edge theater. Yet, there are enough sharp observations about money and society, life and love, to make this revival rise above the stock characters and the hokey comic elements. John S. Davies starts things off with a clever directorial touch that introduces Georgina balancing a book on her head which deftly illustrates her father's belief that "a lady is educated to sing, dance, and walk well into a room" and the only use she is likely to have for a book. The minor characters often prove to be major assets, especially Suzanna Geraghty and Laurence Drozd whose Lady Franklin and Sir Henry Graves almost steal the show.
Not everything about Davies' directing works as well -- the plot unwinds rather too slowly, the actors are at times allowed to rush through their lines, and the play's variety of moods are somewhat flattened by an emphasis on broad humor at the expense of its satirical treasures. Some examples: as "men are valued not for what they are, but for what they seem to be" . . ."the greatest happiness of the greatest number and the greatest number is number one". . . "happiness is too rare to be sacrificed to a scruple". . ."in this world, the only way to make oneself thoroughly respectable is to make a thoroughly respectable show" . . . "free the poor into the poorhouse." On the other hand, Sharp (William Joseph Brookes), the old club member, while indeed funny, is allowed to yammer at least once too often for his snuff box. Dobbins' portrayal of the noble Alfred could use a bit more astringency, as his relationship with the equally noble Clara could use some visceral as well as verbal sparks.
The scene shifting choral refrain is effective but becomes a bit repetitious over the course of eleven scenes. In terms of functioning as part of the shift in scenery, the money-money-money mantra tends to emphasize the awkwardness and ineffectiveness of the panels used to evoke the various locations. A less noisy and cumbersome backdrop with more reliance on lighting would have worked just as well, especially since E. Shura Pollatsek's costumes are lavish enough to evoke Victorian splendor and most amusingly accentuate the absurdities of some of the comic minor characters.
As with their revival of The Shaugran the Storm Theatre once again acquaints American theater goers with a work of a writer unfamiliar to most. The play's format may be old-fashioned, the production lacking in star names or elaborate staging, but its subject is priceless and timeless.