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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 21, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 25
Humor in hard times - Book-It takes a funny/sad look at one family's Great Recession
Arts & Entertainment
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Humor in hard times - Book-It takes a funny/sad look at one family's Great Recession

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

THE FINANCIAL LIVES OF THE POETS
BOOK-IT REPERTORY THEATRE
Through June 30


Book-It Repertory's newest adaptation is of the novel The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter. Many people reported that the book was laugh-out-loud funny, and much of the tone of the novel - and its tongue-in-cheek look at a family falling down the rabbit hole of the current economy - comes through in the stage adaptation by Myra Platt.

This nutshell rendering of a 99-percenter who desperately wants to act like a one-percenter combines the somewhat heartbreaking details of a house in foreclosure - a process that includes losing paperwork and a downsized "business reporter" who then tries a doomed online venture, as many have tried entrepreneurship in these times. But his venture was combining poetry with financial advice. That sounds doomed from the idea stage!

The exploits of Matt Prior (a beleaguered and hapless Evan Whitfield) stem mostly from an inability to distinguish between good impulses and bad ones. A good one is to try to take care of his family. A bad one is to use the last of his cash to purchase a large amount of marijuana and sell it to fund the re-fi on his house.

Along with losing his house and job, Matt thinks his wife might be having an affair. Lisa, a stressed and increasingly hopeless wife and mother (Jennifer Sue Johnson), might be flirting with an old boyfriend to relieve tension, but mostly doesn't seem able to continue supporting her husband through a prolonged downturn. She's also a bit tone-deaf about needing to move the kids to a public school and other money-saving actions.

A lot of the dialogue in the play is funny and sad at the same time, a difficult feat of entertainment that works well here. Some of the lighter moments involve a gang of teen punks who rap and smoke and take "Slippers" (Prior's street name) under their wing drug-wise.

SHAPE-SHIFTER
A large ensemble lends great support to the production. Specifically, Betsy Schwartz gets the Chameleon Prize for portraying at least seven different characters, all of whom have totally different costumes - including hair! She makes each one distinct and memorable. Trick Danneker disappears inside a young druggie who bonds with Matt. Richard Nguyen Sloniker switches up from a dangerous character to a guy who is also struggling just to get along.

Costume designer Peter Donnelly has his hands full with all the characters and costume changes, while lighting designer Marnie Cummings and sound designer Matt Starritt help create much of the mood on a spare, whimsical set of typewriter keys by Andrea Bryn Bush. Directed by Myra Platt, the play is full of identifiable characters and situations and leaves us with a little hope at the end that even clueless families can learn and grow.

For more information, go to www.book-it.org or call (206) 216-0833. This production is performed in the University District at the Jones Playhouse, a UW facility, at 4045 University Way N.E.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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