Thursday, October 11, 2007

Scarcity (The SOB Review)

Scarcity (The SOB Review) - Linda Gross Theater, Atlantic Theater Company, New York, NY

*** (out of ****)

I'll cut to the chase.

If you've somehow been scared away from Lucy Thurber's Scarcity due to reviews focusing on a perceived "ick" factor, then I'm here to tell you that they're missing the point.

It's a pretty slick show.

Sure, it's never easy watching a dysfunctional family deal with everything chronic from acute alcoholism to unemployment -- just ask the millions of Americans having to deal with those issues every day. But under Jackson Gay's intensely calibrated and fast paced direction, the remarkable ensemble helps turn this white trash heap into a gleaming phoenix.

Yes, at it's most despressing, Thurber paints a desperately bleak picture replete with vomit and a litter-strewn living room (thanks to Walt Spangler). She dabbles in Mary Kay Letourneau territory and hints at incestuous desires. And she blends in a most unrespectable father in Herb (an utterly unrecognizable Michael T. Weiss in a brave performance), a chronically unemployed, raging alcoholic being delivered for the umpteenth time to his home by his wife's cousin Louie (Todd Weeks).

Yet at its core, it's surprisingly compelling and ultimately uplifting.

As Martha, Kristen Johnston provides the emotional crux of Scarcity in finding the heart of a working-poor wife and mother. Even though she's apparently resigned to her own destiny -- somehow hanging on to her sloppy sex-filled marriage to Herb, while mired deep in the slop of a poverty-stricken corner of western Massachusetts -- Martha clearly wants a better life for her two brilliant children Billy and Rachel (Meredith Brandt). Scaling a range that goes from rage to tears, Johnston once again demonstrates some of the most raw, vital ardor on the stage today.

While Scarcity initially served as a stage vehicle for wunderkind Jesse Eisenberg, the young actor made an early exit last week for more film work.

But fear not. In his place, the very youthful looking Brandon Espinoza (who's 25 in person) offers a breathtaking performance as Martha and Herb's young tough 16 year old son Billy.

Armed not only with a potent temper, Billy possesses a sharp mind that lands him in a class for the gifted and talented. It also lands him in the arms of a potentially dangerous liaison with a doting, yet surprisingly daft teacher Ellen (Maggie Kiley), whose perfidy of her teaching duties make her attentiveness to Billy -- working to get him accepted into a private school -- suspect.

Aching to break away from his family's hell hole of a life, Billy takes advantage of a willing Ellen, awarding her assistance with his own quid pro quo. Martha may not like what she's seeing, but she has the strength and loving vision to see that Billy will have a real chance in the world that she never had.

And with that, Scarcity is rich with the realization that the American dream can still become a reality.

Scarcity's Off-Broadway run at the Atlantic Theater has been extended through October 21.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
40 Rocks From The Radiant Kristen Johnston (September 18, 2007)

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