By Lucy Thurber
Directed by Cody Estle
At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago
Does End Ever Justify Means?
In the midst of reading recent bestseller Hillbilly Elegy, I felt quite at
home in the poverty-stricken, dysfunctional world of Scarcity. Meet
another feckless, unemployed, beer-loving father, Herb Lawrence (Mark
Pracht); another screaming, beer-loving slattern/wife Martha (Jacqueline
Grandt), a philandering cousin Louie (Johnny Garcia) and his lonely, obese
wife Gloria (Debra Rodkin). Two brilliant, educationally and opportunity
starved Lawrence children, 16-year-old Billy (Brendan Meyer) and his
precocious younger sister, 11-year-old Rachel (Ada Grey), round out the
family. Into this melee strolls prim, proper-appearing, non-drinking and
non-smoking Ellen Roberts (Emily Tate), a naive do-gooder, a high school
teacher who wants to open academic doors for Billy. Unfortunately (or
perhaps fortunately, depending on point of view), she begins to lust after
This play might as easily been titled lust. Dad lusts for daughter. Cousin
lusts for cousin. Wives lust for husbands and ultimately a teacher lusts
for her student. The dialogue brims with desire:
“Rachel, get your father a beer and come sit on my lap,” is a drunken
paternal demand. “You’re so connected to your body. Do you know how rare
it is to be sensual and intelligent?” his teacher provocatively asks
Billy. And the children, what do they lust for? Knowledge and escape!
Billy will do anything to leave and Rachel is agonized at the thought of
What does the future hold for this food-stamp family? Throughout the
play, Rachel toys with a deck of Tarot cards, telling the fortunes of
others. She claims to be able to see ahead and is devastated when she
cannot envision her own future — which looks quite bleak.
Act I is always easier to write than Act II. A playwright can set up any
series of complications but the problem is how to resolve them. Lucy
Thurber is more than equal to the task, first posing and then answering
such difficult questions as, “Who will get his or her heart’s desire and
who will not?” And, “Is reaching a goal, no matter how valuable, actually
worth the price?”
The solid cast handles all the complications brilliantly. Special kudos to
Grant and young Grey in portraying the volatile mother/daughter
complexities. Throughout, the family members come together and separate in
violent, angry combinations, achieving a certain amount of sympathy as
well as dismay. Sometimes close to being two-dimensional, they manage to
avoid becoming mere caricatures. The whole, compelling experience is
heightened by the physical arrangements of a stage which intersects the
audience. Twenty-four seats in tiered rows flank either side of the set.
This combination of dining room, living room, and kitchen is merely a
handbreadth away, drawing the audience into the action.
Thurber’s Scarcity belongs to cycle of five plays all of which deal with
important moments in the life of the main character, moving from
childhood, progressing through college, coming to terms with sexual
identity, and adulthood. The others are Where We’re Born, Ashville,
Killers and Other Family, and Stay. Judging from the skill of Scarcity,
let’s hope Redtwist will consider mounting some of the others
Beverly Friend, PHD, Member American Critics Assn.
Date Reviewed: September 10, 2016
CAUTION: Cigarette smoke may bother some viewers during one brief scene.
Redtwist Theatre, 1046 W. Bryn Mawr, 773 -728-7529, www.redtwist.org.
Tickets $30 on Thursdays, $35 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays ($5 discount
for seniors and students). 7:30 pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 3 pm
Sunday through Oct 9. Run time two hours with a 10-minute intermission.