Saturday, March 12, 2016

Review: For the Love of Money

Have you ever wondered about the concept of paper money? Like how have we accepted that paper is worth the denominations printed on them? Journey back to the origin of the first banks and you'll get your answer. The history of modern currency is explored in Matt Herzfeld's witty comedic romp The Improbable Fall, Rise, & Fall of John Law. Presented by Dreamscape Theatre at IRT, the Scot with an idea goes on an epic journey to change the face of money and greed as we know it.
To tell John Law's story, Herzfeld takes a dash of history and a pinch of comedy to tell the story of a man who lost everything to fight his way to gain it all back. With a cast of eight portraying nearly three dozen characters, Herzfeld's script wonderfully marries the Restoration period theatrics with a modern tongue. Though there are moments where Herzfeld's story feels more like a live history lesson, he manages to keep the piece entertaining. With an epic adventure and an incredulous cast of characters to encounter along the way, John Law's journey can be likened to Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Both tales follow a confident and slightly cocky man who is well-traveled and talks himself in and out of situations. And the comparisons go much deeper. The Improbable Fall, Rise, & Fall of John Law proves Herzfeld's intelligence but also displays his ability to overwrite. Currently clocking in almost at whopping two and a half hours, with intermission, the play has material prime for the cutting. The Improbable Fall, Rise, & Fall of John Law is in desperate need of trimming. Virtually any scene in which John Law is not present or the focus of conversation can easily be eliminated. And then internally the scenes can be trimmed. While dramaturgically it makes sense as to why we see John sell his pitch to each individual, it's repetitive for the audience and loses its impact. With theatricality naturally built in, a tighter montage of bank pitches could help keep the momentum strong. Sadly Act II loses steam following the brilliant scene with the new king of France. Once the text gets tightened up, The Improbable Fall, Rise, & Fall of John Law is an entertaining piece.
The production happened to feature a wonderfully diverse and multi-talented cast. Showcasing their ability to create an array of characters, the ensemble worked well as one while finding their moments to dazzle. Taking on the titular role, Greg Carere was an engaging journeyer. With a whacky world surrounding him, Carere maintained a straight-man performance while still being interesting to watch. With so many characters to take on, the ensemble did a phenomenal job creating a cornucopia of personalities. They each had their own gimmick, whether it be through gender-bending, physicality, voice, or notoriety. The cohesiveness of the ensemble was strong but by far the winners within the ensemble were Rosie Sowa and Stephen James Anthony. Sowa’s highlights included a crazy in love woman in Miss Wilson and the hilariously bratty youth Louis XV. Sowa’s ability to transform between an array of types proved her worth as a performer and comedian. Anthony was relegated to some of the smaller roles but his senile Judge Lovell and absurdly villainous Duke of Orleans were some of the finer character portraits of the production. Other strong players included Fernando Gonzalez and Aurea Tomeski, a duo who often found themselves in the most ridiculously zany parts.
photo by Sergio Pasquareiello
Naturally by the length of text and the way the play moves, The Improbable Fall, Rise, & Fall of John Law is an epic comedy. Tackling it and bringing cohesion to the stage is no easy feat but director Brad Raimondo did an exquisite job. Though you could question why exactly there was no consistency when it came to accents, nearly every choice that Raimondo and his team made was strong and supported. To bring this journey play to the stage, scenic designer Joshua Rose turned the IRT Theater into a long alleyway to represent the playing space. It looked tight yet fit this world well. With various scenic elements that were turned into anything and everything, moving from scene to scene required Raimondo to use character-driven active transitions. This assisted to avoid monotony and sighs of yet another scenic shift. The most dynamic element of the set were the two long clothing racks that created barriers. At first glance you would have believed that every single costume would be pulled from these racks. Raimondo seldom utilized them, which is a shame. But when he did, it helped with the theatricality of the piece. Balancing the modern and period worlds, costume designer Caitlin Cisek utilized elements of both in her excellent design. She kept the ensemble in base costumes, often including jeans, while adding Restoration inspired pieces for each character.  Like Cisek, Mark Van Hare’s score found a way to bring the two times together. Van Hare’s music allowed the transitions comes to life.
The Improbable Fall, Rise, & Fall isn’t for everyone. If you’re not a fan of history, this may not be the right play for you. Matt Herzfeld has a lot to work to do when it comes to finessing his script. But if you’re looking for a modern romp about money, The Dreamscape Theatre’s production is worth checking out.