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Abundance

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Abundance is going to appeal most to those who enter agreeing with the show's premise: there's plenty of money out there, and if only it were just spread around differently, the world would be a better place. The show at the Dance Theater Workshop makes no attempt to hide its message or intentions, so it's obvious from the start what you're going to get. Within that realm, Abundance doesn't disappoint.

If you don't agree with the show's central philosophy, you might find it a bit more trying. Still, playwright Marty Pottenger, who also directed the show with Steve Bailey, has done a lot of hard work to ensure that the show will be entertaining enough for everyone, and have succeeded to no small degree. Whatever its other problems might be, the show was conceived as a theatre piece, and succeeds as one from beginning to end.

Despite the efforts of Pottenger, Bailey, and their good ensemble of actors (Cary Barker, Herb Downer, Joe Gioco, Thom Rivera, and Nikki Walker), no one involved is capable of completely camouflaging the show's central problem: this is a show based on statistics. There are but a few times when the numbers and accompanying interpretations aren't flying fast and furious enough to suggest audience members should be provided collision insurance with their tickets.

To some degree, that's to be expected in any play of this type, and to be fair, there is something of a pay-off for this near the end of the evening. Two of the actors read the results of a survey distributed to the audience prior to the show, discussing the audience members with the highest and lowest salaries, the average amount everyone spent on essential and non-essential purchases, and so on. Bringing the audience's unspoken economic realities to the forefront of our awareness is the one truly daring (and successful) theatrical coup in Abundance.

Much of the rest of the show attempts to use similar statistics to make its points, filtered through real people's stories about money, or lack of it. Indeed, a considerable portion of the show's program is devoted to describing the mission of the Abundance Project, and the exact steps that led to the creation of the show. One can't help but wonder if Pottenger and Bailey see this show as the economic answer to The Laramie Project or The Exonerated.

This show is never in the league of either, perhaps because there's inherently less drama present in this subject matter, and less of an opportunity for the audience to make up its own mind about the events. This results in scenes of characters taking part in financial support groups, two garbage men pontificating on wealth, or even a wheelchair-bound rich white man's relationship with his black servant - not a lot of fresh ideas here, based on real words or not.

But if Abundance often seems to be lacking surprise or true dramatic depth, there's no shortage of talent, style, or humor on display; much of the show's writing (particularly the brief transition scenes) approaches the poetic, and there are more than a few laughs to be found. The actors give brightly polished performances whether cracking jokes or mining their souls, and there are no real weak links in the cast. As each performer must play a wide variety of different roles, the adaptability and flexibility of the cast is one of the production's chief assets.

Also fine are the sets (Mimi Lien), costumes (Martin Lopez), lights (Susan Hamburger), and projections (Ed Hanna and Jeanne Finnerty) that help round out the production, though Pottenger and Bailey aren't overly concerned with these things; they have different goals in mind. Whether you agree with those goals or not, the acceptance of those goals as the real purpose for Abundance is the key to enjoying it. Luckily, Pottenger and Bailey haven't made that too hard to do.

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The Working Theater
Abundance
Through January 24
Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission
Dance Theatre Workshop, 219 West 19th Street
Schedule and Tickets: 212.924.0077