Chicago Theater Review: SCARCITY (Redtwist)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 11, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


Scarcity is a fine title for a play that lacks a lot. Ugly is as ugly does: Lucy Thurber’s bottom-feeding modern melodrama, a Redtwist Theatre Chicago premiere, works overtime to dumb down characters who, to start with, were ingrown, missing-link, birdbrained stereotypes. Like the Showtime series Shameless, the movie Deliverance, or the old-time penny-dreadful Tobacco Road, this witless two-act trades wholesale in crude caricatures of dumbass poor folks. As you watch it, you keep hoping for the indictments to reverse themselves, as in Bihaylia, Mississippi, that the hidden worth of these menacing mediocrities might surface.


No such luck with Thurber’s stillborn soap opera. Without a scintilla of compassion, just kickass condescension, the manically mocking playwright stacks the cards against the lowbrow Lawrence clan, simpletons infesting a small town in western Massachusetts. The sinister, pointlessly possessive mother Martha (Jacqueline Grandt) is a fed-up enabler who reviles her drunk, feckless, jobless and possibly pedophile husband Herb (Mark Pracht), a legendary lout even in this hardluck hell. Yes, there are heavy hints that Herb pervs over his precociously scatological, preteen daughter Rachel (Ada Grey), a serious tyke who reads incoherent fates in Tarot cards and aches to shout out “vagina, vagina, vagina.”


The darling of this dysfunctional tribe is 16-year-old Billy (Brendan Meyer), a petty pretty boy fueled by amoral ambition and—the show’s one kindness—a half-assed wish to protect his sister. With only scant evidence, we’re to believe that smartass Billy is a math prodigy. Anyway that’s the cover story concocted by Billy’s sex-crazed teacher Ellen (Emily Tate), a local patrician with her heart and brain in the wrong places. Blandly evil Ellen has non-negotiable designs on corruptly cute Billy. She’ll help him escape this dead-end dump and matriculate to Deerfield Academy if he can sexually satisfy her.

jacqueline-grandt-johnny-garcia-in-redtwists-scarcityOf course, the nasty, sweet-faced punk has no scruples against screwing teach for a free scholarship. Nor does the mother, eager to whore out her boy to a sexual predator. Two other big-mouthed bullies complete the rogues gallery: A cousin and bad cop, Louie Marino (Johnny Garcia) wants to bone Martha–to the rage of his foul-mouthed, overweight, harridan wife Gloria (Debra Rodkin, happily the last of these thankless parts). Happily, he disappears halfway through this 100-minute ordeal.

Users and losers. Nothing in between.

Once Thurber has established her blatantly repulsive country cartoons, her seriously stupid insult humor, and the class clash between a fucked-up family and an exploitive teacher, she just lets them spew. A paltry play degenerates into a series of increasingly desperate shock effects. We keep searching for an innocence or integrity that Scarcity can’t afford. It won’t waste time on realism either, not that this tour de sewer could ever reward truth-telling either in script or performance. Too slow to make this the Joe Orton-like farce it aspires to be and too naturalistic to let us suspend the slightest disbelief, Cody Estle’s dogged staging just lets these louses lose, over and over, in a sick celebration of idiots on couches. The one believable thing on this silly stage? Set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s densely tacky, sadass apartment. If you could see it without the characters ruining everything by entering.


Worst thing in this poor man’s August: Osage County: We’re punished for caring about characters that both author and director condescendingly condemn to their twisted fates. That’s scarcity indeed in this misanthropic misfire. Haters, enjoy your show.


emily-tate-brendan-meyer-in-redtwists-scarcityphotos by Jan Ellen Graves

Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W Bryn Mawr
Thurs–Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on October 9, 2016
EXTENDED to October 16, 2016
for tickets, call 773-728-7529 or visit Redtwist

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment }

Beverly Friend September 11, 2016 at 7:15 pm

Did we see the same play???

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