Mom Theatre Blogger: Abundance: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman
TACT/The Actors Company Theatre (Scott Alan Evans and Jenn Thompson, Co-Artistic Directors), the critically-acclaimed and Drama Desk nominated Off-Broadway company that “reveals, reclaims and reimagines great plays of literary merit,” is presenting Abundance, the 1990 play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart).
An epic tale of friendship, spanning 25 years, set against the backdrop of the sweeping American West, Abundance is directed by Ms. Thompson, who directed last season’s production of William Inge’s Natural Affection.
The cast includes TACT Company Members Kelly McAndrew (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – B’way), Tracy Middendorf (Ah, Wilderness! – LCT), Jeff Talbott (Sly Fox – B’way) and Guest Artists Todd Lawson (Summer and Smoke – B’way), and Ted Koch (The Pillowman – B’way).
In Abundance, the tall tale of shy, scared Bess (Tracy Middendorf) and full of life and ambition Macon (Kelly McAndrew), two mail-order brides, are lured to the plains of Wyoming by the promise of new beginnings. They connect immediately and together embark on the adventure as two Mrs. except that Bess gets jolting news when she learns the man she was to marry has died (choking on cornbread while riding bareback on a horse….just one example of Ms. Henley’s irreverence), so she instead marries the bearer of the news — his sullen, abusive, illiterate brother (Jack) — who is nothing like her intended.
Jack hates crying and music (she likes to sing), and for that matter, he doesn’t seem to like much including her. He ultimately takes a fancy to Macon when he and Bess move in, after Jack burns their house down, to live with Macon and her dull, one-eyed, hard-working, widower husband (Will). He pursues Macon, and they have an affair, until Bess returns. Bess disappears one day, and we later learn that she was captured by Indians, married one of them, and bore two children. (spoiler alert) When she’s rescued after years and brought back, she is a changed woman with Indian battle scar ink markings (including prominently on her chin), and she gets shackled at her ankle to the house so she is unable to bolt and return to the tribe. Ultimately, her riveting story catches the interest of a professor who writes and publishes a book about it, and they both make a boatload. Bess goes on the lecture circuit, and her husband, who was once surly and unmotivated, ends his affair, and becomes a subservient puppy dog to Bess who controls the purse strings. Macon and her husband split up and lose everything, and she ultimately has health challenges, and whatever abundance she had in her life is now a thing of the prairie past. In the end, the women reconcile, and we are glad to see that their friendship persevered, even though their lives turned out in ways they could not expect from back in their single days.
Henley portrays women seeking happiness despite their struggles and inner demons. Her characters are both strong and sympathetic. Neither Macon nor Bess are content with their spouses, and at different times, each yearns to leave, but they want to do it together and aren’t on the same page at the same time. The shifts in the characters demeanors as their destinies alter is fascinating to watch. And Henley’s out of the box tale in Act II is a great example of storytelling. Henley has a penchant for dark comedies, and there are many moments here, i.e. when Will gives Macon a gift of his glass eye and a card from one of their cows. As directed by Thompson, the actors play it entirely straight, and there might have room for even more laughs if their performances seized the quirky opportunity.
McAndrew delivers a fiery, enthusiastic, affecting performance. Middendorf morphs effectively from a demure, anxious newlywed to a traumatized victim to a thick-skinned well- to-do, in-demand author who takes no prisoners. Lawson as Jack packs a punch, literally, though his portrayal is more interesting in Act I when we love to hate him as the bad boy.
Koch as Will is tender and earnest, and we feel for him as he yearns for closeness from Macon which she is not inclined to deliver.
Talbott has a secondary but pivotal role in Act II, and he fits the bill as the professor scribe.
The creative team is comprised of Wilson Chin (sets), Tracy Christensen (costumes), Philip Rosenberg (lights), and Toby Algya (sound). Erin Gioia Albrecht is Production Stage Manager and Kelly Burns is Assistant Stage Manager.
Abundance is the first play by Beth Henley not set in the Deep South. Its world premiere was produced at South Coast Repertory in spring 1989 then moved east for its Off Broadway bow at Manhattan Theatre Club. Tess Harper and Amanda Plummer portrayed the roles of Macon and Bess, respectively. TACT’s production is the first time that the play has been seen in New York in 25 years.
The show is at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre (410 West 42nd Street – between 9th & 10th Avenues) through March 28, 2015.