Greed, as we all know, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Greed toppled the stock market in 1929, and it brought our country to its knees again in 2008. Thus a play about greed, one thinks, should be timely?
Maybe, and then again, maybe not.
Written by John Cecil Holm and George Abbott, the play opened on Broadway in January, 1935, during the heart of the Great Depression. It ran for 835 performances–a rousing success by anyone’s standards–offering “comedy, escapism, and optimism to counter the often grim realities of daily life.” It centers on Erwin Trowbridge (Sean Powell), an earnest young man who supports himself and his wife by writing greeting card verses. His hobby, as he rides the bus to work each morning, is to figure out, as only he seems able, which horses will win that day. He is always right, but even though he could use the money, he never bets. It goes against who he is.
One morning after a spat with his wife and his odious brother-in-law, he stumbles into a bar instead of going to work. There, he takes a drink, and then another, and begins spewing which horses are going to win that day to a trio of down-and-out gamblers who have been on a long losing streak at the track. After winning on every horse that day, thanks to Erwin, the three scheme a way to keep him feeding them information. For his efforts, they will pay him 10 percent of the winnings. But their schemes seem to expand with every win. They’ll take it on the road. They’ll make a million dollars!
As their greed escalates, Erwin navigates a rocky road in his attempts to escape their insanity and scheming, get back to his wife, and redeem himself at work. The cast gives its all. There are some genuinely hilarious moments, the best of which are delivered by Laura Hiszczynskyj as Mabel (a former Follies girl and girlfriend of Patsy (Ted Schulz), the leader of the gambler trio) and David Heath as Mr. Carver, Erwin’s boss, who comes on stage in the third act and steals the show!
Direction, delivery, costumes…everything is up to Lakewood’s usual high standards. And yet for me the play ultimately fell a little flat. Humor is a highly subjective thing. But more important, the stakes just weren’t high enough. Sure, there was slapstick and fun. But the greed that the play centered on seemed so minor, so silly, really, compared to what we’ve been through since 2008, that it left me not so much entertained as it did yearning for simpler times.
The play opened on March 6 and continues its run through April 12 on the Headlee Main Stage. If you visit Lakewood’s website, check out the new building project which for its Artist Training Facility. Lakewood offers theatre and visual arts classes for ages four through adult, most starting in early April.