Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents the world premier of Steven Peterson’s AFFLUENCE, a dark tale of a family inherence that’s being threatened due to a series of ironic timing and unfortunate circumstances.
The setting takes place on the last week of 2010 right after Christmas (Boxing Day) and right before New Year’s Day (December 31st), at the home of the Woodley family. Robert Woodley Jr. (Lloyd Pedersen) was at one time a man of influence and wealth. The Great Recession of 2008-09 took a beating to the family’s financial situations, nearly wiping the entire estate out. He, along with his spouse Jean (Rhonda Lord) has the burden to taking care of Robert’s elderly mother Namoo (Nan Tepper). They don’t hold the entire burden as they have a hired woman Inez (Christine Uhebe) as a live in nurse dispensing her medications. Adding to the mix is the Woodley’s two kids; elder son Robert III (Justin Huff) whose nickname is Arthird and is a “boomerang” adult child, and his younger sister Barbara aka Beanie (Ilona Kulinska) who’s hoping to be accepted at a prestigious (and unnamed) Boston based college. There’s a bit of irony set upon the household capacity. Jean took part in obtaining some pills when Namoo was in a hospice, nearly getting into some legal trouble and paying dearly to the family attorney in order to bail her out. Then there’s something about a federal inherence tax that will go into effect on January 1st. If Namoo passes on before the stroke of twelve on December 31st, the family will collect the entire inherence worth millions and pay no tax. If she passes after 12:01 AM on January 1st, the family must fork over the steep tax to the government. Deep in debt through his many conditions, Robert has a possible way out — and what is that way out? Will he hatch a scheme to bump his mother off before Midnight to avoid the taxes? Will Jean be left off the hook from what she did on getting her pills? Will Beanie become accepted to the college of her choosing? And Is Arthird having a bit of a romantic fling with Inez?
This very macabre play written by Steven Peterson has many twists and turns within its plotting that makes this piece totally unpredictable. Although it’s billed as a dark comedy, there aren’t as many laughs as one would expect in a stage work that uses “comedy” as its genre. Although there is some comedy relief used within, most of what’s billed as humorous is isolated and is better akin to a play that carries more drama than genuine belly laughs! As to its casting, Lloyd Pedersen as Robert is the father figure that took a hard lambasting through destiny that wasn’t of his making. Rhonda Lord as Jean is a spouse that was once supportive toward her husband, but appears to look only for herself. Justin Huff as Arthird is more of a child in an adult body, playing his character as a goofus. Ilona Kulinska as younger sister Beanie is more mature for her age (not old enough to legally drink) and accommodates more emotional independence. Christine Uhebe as Inez is a hard working caretaker and would bend the rules if she has to, but only when put up to the test. And rounding out the cast is Nan Tepper as Namoo, the sweet person who sadly is in the middle of much of the family’s burdens that’s set upon fate rather than through actions!
Larry Eisenberg directs this piece that gets better (and darker) as the play progresses. One can’t predict what’s going to take place, as this play holds a similar notion to a murder mystery, yet the smoking gun (so to speak) is not as obvious until its final climax.
This play was the winner of the 2013 Julie Harris Playwright Award as presented by the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild, and its winning of this award was very well deserved. This is a stage production that is worth a good look, especially within a setting of an intimate stage space as seen at the ninety nine seat Reuben Cordova Theatre, the home of Theatre 40.