Last weekend was full of surprises in terms of Indianapolis area theatre.
I looked forward to seeing the opening of Neil LaBute’s “The Mercy Seat” at The Theatre Within on Friday night, but early that morning I got an email from the director, Rod Isaac, telling me the show was cancelled for the weekend because one of the two actors was too sick to perform.* So I stayed home and read Kristin Chenoweth’s new autobiography, Just a Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages instead.
I’d been looking forward to seeing “Evita” at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre on Sunday afternoon ever since I got a chance to chat with its star, Mikayla Reed, at a party a few weeks ago. However, on Sunday morning I had a personal mishap at home (never mind the details) and realized at 1:00 that there was no way I could get to the theatre by 2:00, so I called to cancel. I am very grateful that Civic’s media relations person, Ulrike Steinert, was able to get me in for another attempt next weekend. I have heard so much early, positive buzz about this show that I bet some performances will sell out.
But back to last weekend…I am happy to report that I was able to see the Epilogue Players’ production of “Other People’s Money” on Saturday night. It was written by Jerry Sterner, directed by John Carver, and executive produced by Beverly Gray. It is a thought-provoking piece, both in terms of the play itself and in terms of the acting in this particular production.
I haven’t been able to write about Epilogue for the past year because it is a member of the Encore Association and I was serving as an Encore judge (i.e. – I was not allowed to talk or write publicly about the theatres whose shows I was judging) so let me take a moment now to mention that Epilogue Players is an all-volunteer community theatre that offers “persons age fifty and over opportunities to express their artistic and creative talents” and offers audience members “the finest theatrical productions which provide themes of interest and entertainment.”
The Epilogue Players’ theatre space is in the Hedback Community Arts Center, which is a building at the corner of 19th & Alabama Streets in Indianapolis that also houses Footlite Musicals. There is free parking on the streets and in a parking lot behind the building. Epilogue shows are very affordable at $10 per adult ticket ($9 for seniors) and they often sell out, so you MUST make a reservation. (More about this in a moment.)
I always look forward to seeing an Epilogue production because I love the intimacy of their quirky little space (try not to sit behind a pole but if you do, it’s okay) and I am always intrigued by the ornate carvings on the ceiling.
This particular show was interesting because, as the director says in his program notes, “Other People’s Money opened during the height of the ‘me’ decade and the era of lost confidence in Corporate America. The winner of the 1989 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off Broadway Play, it pits small town values against big city greed…(but also asks the question, does the) creative destruction of a company lead to innovation and improvement?”
It was fascinating to watch this 1989 play here in 2009 and think about how far – or not – we’ve come in our understanding and practice of business ethics.
It was also fascinating for me as a theatre junkie to watch the five actors in this production. It was obvious that they had done a LOT of work to explore the depths of their individual characters and the complexity of their relationships with each other. I believed in their portrayals. However, I didn’t get completely caught up in what was happening to the characters because not all of the actors seemed to be completely comfortable yet with the complexity of the lines. There is a lot of snappy business jargon in this play. I imagine it must be a challenge to learn.
I kept thinking about p.184 in the Kristin Chenoweth autobiography that I had just read the previous night. She describes how hard it was to memorize the complicated dialogue in her role on the TV show “The West Wing.” Her co-star, Allison Janney, taught her a trick that she had learned from Meryl Streep: “If you’ve got a string of words you just can’t get in your mouth, write the first letter of every word at the top of the page. It sets the words in your brain just a bit differently.” Allison added, “Works like gangbusters.”
Anyway, what I appreciated most about the five portrayals in “Other People’s Money” was the complex humanity that their actors gave them around and under and in spite of their complicated lines, if that makes sense. The story is not, actually, a simple matter of good guys vs. bad guys.
- Ken Ganza plays William Coles, the calm and admirable manager of the Rhode Island wire and cable company who has been working diligently for years with the understanding that he will get to take over the business some day. He is loyal…but only up to a point. Ultimately he has to look out for himself and his family first.
- G. Michael Bell plays Andrew Jorgenson, the rock-like owner of the company that has been in his family for generations. He loves his company and his community, and he feels a strong sense of responsibility to his factory workers…but he pretty clueless about any responsibility he may have for his mistress or his plant manager.
- Susan Townsend plays Bea Sullivan, the polished, long-time assistant to “Jorgie.” She is smart, pretty, reliable…and blinded by another kind of love.
- Phyllis Munro plays Bea’s glamorous daughter, Kate. She may have grown up in a small town but she is now a slick New York lawyer, driven to succeed both by resentment and the sheer thrill of competition.
- Doug Robinson plays Lawrence Garfinkel, aka Larry the Liquidator because his specialty is going after vulnerable companies and destroying them to make a profit. He is coarse, soulless, misogynistic, disgusting…and inexplicably sexy.
I loved the love-hate chemistry between Kate and Larry. Actually, there are already plenty of various kinds of chemistry zipping back and forth between all five of the characters. When all five actors have their lines so thoroughly nailed that they don’t have to “reach” for them, I bet the chemistry between them all will be explosive.
Hmm. I wish I had time to go see this show again later in its run.
I also appreciated Ken Ganza’s and Doug Robinson’s ability to let the Fourth Wall fall away so that they could, as directed by the script, address the audience directly. Ken had a comfortableness in his manner of interacting with the audience that perfectly fit his character’s experiences as a leader, someone who frequently addresses groups of employees. Doug had a fearlessness in his manner that perfectly fit his character’s ballsy, intimidating personality. Both were therefore very appealing.
During the curtain talk before the show, the director said that they had taken out a lot of the curse words that were in the original script. A woman behind me called out, “Good! Thank you!” but several other voices then said, “Boo!” The director, of course, did not want to get into a debate over whether or not a script should ever be cut. He went on to say that in any case, he had left in a few curse words and other bits of adults-only content because he felt they were essential for portraying the characters that used them, and he took full responsibility for leaving them in. So…I guess I should warn you, too, that there are some curse words and sexual references in this show, but I agree with John Carver that none of them is gratuitous.
John Carver also designed the simple but versatile set, which allows us to go from the Rhode Island factory to Larry’s high-powered New York office and various other locations with “only” a clever change of the lights. I loved the windows overlooking the woods in one location and the skyscrapers in the other, plus the “ka-ching” scene change music.
(Set construction & painting by Jeff Roby, John Carver, G. Michael Ball, Jerry Glass & Gene Cramer. Andy Brand & Coleen Kubit are the light & sound technicians.)
My program says only that the props are by “cast & staff” but I have to give a shout to whatever anonymous person was responsible for designing and building the donut distributor. I laughed out loud in delight when that was brought forth. Pamela Akers is the props manager, which means she has to deal with a LOT of donuts every night. I had an urge to buy a donut, myself, after the show, but I bet she will feel the opposite after three weekends of dealing with them!
Epilogue Players’ production of “Other People’s Money” continues through Sunday, September 27, 2009. Call 317-926-3139 at a reasonable hour to make a reservation. (The phone rings in someone’s home, so please don’t call in the middle of the night.) You may also email your reservation request to eilogue.players at yahoo dot com. Epilogue does not accept any kind of credit or debit card, so bring cash to pay for your ticket and to buy a soda at intermission.
‘See you at the theatres!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre
*I have since received another email from Rod at The Theatre Within. He says, “The original actor playing the role of Ben Harcourt is not able to continue with the show so we have found a new actor to play the role. Obviously, he is not able to learn a two person show in a week so we are continuing the show as a staged reading and admission will be free to the public.”