Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: How the 1% Schemes

During the height of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, debates raged on as the protestors riled up the troops. All the while the elite 1% watched on from their fancy penthouses. That image took full form in James Presson’s Long Division, a play that watches siblings and their significant others contemplate their future assets as the wealthy patriarch of the family dies just a floor above them. Sound familiar? Taking inspiration from King Lear, the offspring of the super rich plot and scheme as daddy dies, proving that money and power will truly drive a person mad.
At the start of Long Division, we watch a bunch of hoity toity rich folk play musical chairs in their luxury apartment as they bitch about the 99% and their silly Occupy Wall Street movement as they sip wine and champagne and munch on Ferrero Rochers. We learn that sisters Meryl and Rae are trust fund babies who’ve never worked a day in their life. They depend on their father and their lovers, Allen and Cody respectively, for support, living in neighboring apartments daddy bought for them years ago. As they moan about how the 99 percenters shouldn’t complain, the quartet comes to terms about the obvious fifty-fifty split their father will leave them. But what if that isn’t enough? And what if there was another cog to throw into the equation? Allen calls upon fallen sister and all around do-gooder, Corie to help boost his share. Unfortunately Corie’s arrival halts all of the plotting and scheming with one simple talk with her father. What Presson does wonderfully is he takes Lear into the modern age simply. The themes are consistent and singular. Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia are transformed into Meryl, Rae, and Corie effortlessly. Yet, Long Division has the power to stand on its own. When the plot is present, the story is engaging. However there is an overload of social commentary. The social commentary dragged the show at times, preventing the action to continue and prompting some major character duality. Sure, money truly is the only thing these people know how to talk about, but after it’s established in the first scene, it may not need to be as present throughout. The characters Presson has created live in their own selfish bubbles. They are so selfish they don’t realize how truly awful they are. At times they feel as they are wonderful caricatures. Zak Risinger’s Allen was great and a bit cartoonish. Perhaps the rest of the ensemble wanted to match his level to really comment on the egos these characters have.
Despite some varied acting styles, the ensemble did an overall wonderful job. Emily Tarpey easily rocked forgotten sister Corie. Her control shook the world of the play in all the right ways. Her outside perspective allowed for secrets to be revealed and passed along seamlessly. Tarpey’s Corie may have been scheming from the start, but against the horrible people beside her, you instantly liked her. I almost wished there was some sort of prologue that featured Corie so we see her before her grand appearance. Rachel B. Joyce as Rae played up the whiney, prissy spoiled brat card. Had her pill-popping alcoholic character reached Risinger’s at the start, her descent would have landed more. Ben Diserens as Cody had one of the more intriguing backstories, yet the monotony of the performances prevented that from shining through. Cody worked his way to the top so there is still an ounce of humanity inside we didn’t get to see.
In a bare bones environment, director Marc Eardley does a fine job at evoking the spirit of the 1%. Though physically, the world that was set up was at times inconsistent as actors were entering and exiting to rooms and entranceways different from one another. Eardley’s shining moment in staging was the subtle yet impactful choice to foreshadow Corie’s assent by placing her in a thrown at the head of the table. Sound designer Lee Kinney’s transition music was lively and helpful to cover-up the painfully slow scene shifts. More hands would have helped, but the intent was present as the characters in this world would never be caught moving a single piece of furniture. Costume designer Isabelle Fields did a nice job dressing the men of the play, but for a play about the rich, Meryl and Rae wanted to be flashier, drenched in theater budget-friendly designer clothing.
Power goes to people’s heads. Yet when all hopes and desires are ripped away, lives will be shattered and perspectives will change. James Presson’s Long Division is a magnificent glance at the corrupt minds of the chosen few and how money is quite an ugly look.

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