Imagine a big-screen Technicolor Western Epic told as if women had run the studios with a contemporary indie sensibility back in Hollywood’s Golden Era and you’ll get an idea of Beth Henley’s Abundance, the Crimes Of The Heart scribe’s look back at a quarter-century of Wyoming history in a play now celebrating its 25th-anniversary with a pitch-perfect South Coast Repertory revival.
Mismatched heroines Macon (Paige Lindsey White) and Bess (Lily Holleman) make each other’s acquaintance at a small town stagecoach stop and discover to each other’s surprise and delight that they are there with the same aim in mind—to meet a pair of strangers who are about to be their husbands.
Macon turns out to be the luckier of the two—her future hubby is at least alive—though the good-hearted but deadly dull William (Daniel Reichert) could benefit from a bit of the lean-and-hungry sex appeal of Bess’s substitute spouse Jack (Adam Haas Hunter), who’s grudgingly agreed to take his recently deceased brother’s place at the altar.
For born-romantic Macon, a husband whose “honeymoon” gift to her (a glass eye, his own, to replace the one he lost to a pick ax, with a card signed by none other but their cow) is hardly the stuff of a would-be novelist’s dreams.
As for Bess, though the feisty Macon could perhaps have tamed the beastly Jack, her meek-and-mild best friend ends up the victim of a husband’s indifference to anything but his own boorish needs.
A couple of years pass and the two couples are now housemates, the result of Jack having burned down his and Bess’s living quarters, and proximity has done nothing to improve the foursome’s unfortunate lives.
Then comes an event so unexpected and destiny-altering that it’s hard to imagine any audience member not eagerly returning for Abundance’s twisty-turny second act, one that has one character undergoing an understandable yet nonetheless radical personality change, passion igniting in a pair of hitherto passionless lives, and the introduction of a certain Professor Elmore Crome (Larry Bates), whose role in Macon, Bess, Jack, and William’s lives I’ll leave it to you to discover.
Though laced with bits of the oddball humor of Henley’s better-known Crimes Of The Heart, Abundance’s epic scope alone makes it stand on its own feet even as it has us rethinking the male-centric depiction of Manifest Destiny we’ve seen over and over again in movies like 1962’s How The West Was Won.
Martin Benson directs Abundance for South Coast Repertory with consummate finesse, a superb quintet of actors lighting up the Segerstrom Stage with one gem of a performance after another.
Holleman could not make for a more delightfully quirky Bess, and when life deals her some unforeseen blows, you realize that Act One has only scratched the surface of the lovely young actress’s gifts.
Busy SoCal stage star Hunter can’t not be sexy, no matter how dastardly the character he plays, which only adds to his terrific performance here, particularly when certain sparks fly. The always impressive, chameleon-like Reichert vanishes inside William’s well-meaning but ever more ineffectual skin. Bates gets a good deal less to do than his costars, but he does so with charm and verve.
Most memorable of all is the extraordinary White, one of L.A.’s most dynamic stage stars, allowed here to go from delighted to disillusioned to desperate (but never defeated). The four-time Lead Actress Scenie winner has never been better, and that is saying something indeed.
Abundance looks quite glorious on scenic designer John Iacovelli’s gorgeous, expansive set (the kind that only a major regional theater like South Coast Rep can provide), exquisitely lit by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, with Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes replicating the changing eras and circumstances of the play’s five characters. Michael Roth’s original music and soundscape combine chords that would do Dimitri Tiomkin or Alfred Newman proud (with some Stravinsky-esque melodies thrown in for electric, eclectic measure). Sylvia Turner and Ken Merckx deserve mention for her choreography and his fight choreography.
Oanh Nguyen is associate director. Talia Krispel is stage manager. Jackie S. Hill is production manager. Casting is by Joanne DeNaut, CSA. Jerry Patch and Kat Zukaitis are dramaturgs.
It’s hard to imagine a more diverse (or outstanding) trio of plays to open South Coast Repertory’s 2015-2016 season than One Man, Two Guvnors, Vietgone, and now Abundance. Talk about an abundance of riches! Beth Henley’s Abundance makes it three for three.
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
October 27, 2015
Photos: Debora Robinson/SCR, Ben Horak/SCR