Aired on KSDS-FM on 3/31/17
RUN DATES: 3/16/17 – 4/2/17
VENUE: Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company
Mail-order marriages are a pretty big risk. But then, so was moving to the Wyoming Territory in the late 1860s.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley, known for her Southern Gothic sensibility, took her sardonic humor out West with her 1990 melodrama, “Abundance.” Told in short, episodic bursts, like a serial penny-dreadful, it’s the tale of two couples, centering on the mail-order brides who become homesteading besties.
Over the course of 25 years, their experiences seesaw from hardship to plenty, destitution to success, amity to antipathy. One is always up while the other is down. Their shared youthful exuberance, their mutual hopes of “catching a star,” savoring a good man’s love, expanding like the open sky with freedom and adventure, devolve into the callous reality of compromise and betrayal, hardening and aging.
The play hasn’t had a professional production in S
an Diego for some time, and the fledgling Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company is giving it an energetic go. Co-directed by company artistic director Francis Gercke and producing director Anthony Methvin, the potent cast features Jacque Wilke as the high-spirited Macon and Jessica John as docile, naïve Bess.
Macon gets hitched to gentle but awkward Will, a one-eyed widower convincingly portrayed by Brian Mackey. Gercke is the nasty, brutal Jack, a slacker thug who abuses Bess but winds up submissive.
There’s a love triangle and an Indian abduction. There’s accident, acrimony and retribution. The backbreaking, soul-crushing pioneer life encroaches on both couples, but is especially damaging to the relationship between the women. In other productions, they have a final reconciliation. Not here, which weakens the rare saga of how females stuck together in their efforts to tame the Wild West.
Henley’s characters are always quirky and unpredictable. Perhaps the men could be played more broadly in this ultra-spare production. And only Macon ages as the years go by.
As Bess, John makes a commendable transition from cheerful to resentful to supercilious. But ultimately, this is Wilke’s show. She’s spellbinding, from her ebullient, aphoristic optimism at the beginning to her bitter resignation at the end.
The play’s title oozes irony. Abundance eludes the heart of everyone here.
©2017 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews