“Swift Direction by Larry Eisenberg” in Affluence

Steven Peterson’s play, “Affluence”, a dark comedy about intrigue, wealth, family, relationships and murder, has its World Premiere engagement at Beverly Hills Theatre 40. His play won the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild 2013 award for best play. The six character ensemble does a more than credible job in bringing these characters to life under the swift direction by Larry Eisenberg.

The play takes place the week after Christmas, December 26th for Act 1 and December 31st for Act 2 in the once lavish living room of the Woodleys. We are quickly introduced into the plot as Robert Woodley (Lloyd Pedersen) and his wife, Jean (Rhonda Lord) are arguing over, what else? MONEY. The once very wealthy Woodleys are struggling to make ends meet. Robert’s banking business went belly up but his wife’s lifestyle did not. And there are debts up the wazoo, plus daughter, Beanie aka Barbara’s college tuition as well as their son’s Arthird aka Robert the III’s college and living expenses.

Grandma, nicknamed, Namoo, superbly played by the ever-young, Nan Tepper, is on her last legs, or so Jean hopes and prays. In fact, Jean would be delighted if the old gal croaked before the New Year in January, preferably by December 31st. That’s when the inheritance tax laws will change. If Namoo dies before January 1st, the family will inherit twelve million dollars and that not only would give them the opportunity to pay debts and a legal settlement against Jean, but to live in the style they were accustomed to once again. In 2010, there is no inheritance tax, so Robert Woodley Jr. would inherit the whole bundle. If, however, Namoo shuffles off the mortal coil after December 31st, there is a steep “death tax” or inheritance tax with four million dollars owed in those inheritance taxes. The remaining eight million would be absorbed into the family’s debts and to pay off the settlement against Jean for criminal charges of stealing Namoo’s and every other old biddy’s drugs.

Jean had tried to “show” Namoo, on numerous occasions, how to take her pills and forged various doctors’ signatures on prescriptions for herself. Those acts will cost Robert Jr. a tidy bundle to settle to keep his wife out of jail. Is she worth it? One has to wonder as Jean melodramatically screams and slaps him around as she tries to ward off self-induced migraines. Rhonda Lord’s Jean is reminiscent of Gloria Swanson’s diva from “Sunset Boulevard”. Her Jean is larger than life, and Lord brings some fun and drama to her character. Jean “married up for love.” But, that love is long gone along with the money.

Nan Tepper as Namoo is a delight to watch. Tepper got into acting later in life but is a natural performer. Her looks and expressions are priceless. This woman’s silences convey so much. Namoo has a protector in her health care aide, Inez, well played by Christine Uhebe. Inez has been Namoo’s life saver, much to Jean’s chagrin. Namoo declares to Robert Jr. that “Inez is the best thing that ever happened to our family”. “She is a keeper.” Is that a prediction? Hmmmmm? Robert Jr. is not sold on offing his mother before her time, though as a former banker, he has the latest tax figures on hand for both 2010 and 2011. He loves his mother but…

Then we have Beanie, Barbara, the grand daughter, who loves grandma Namoo and is not overly loving of her migraine ridden, hysterical, alcoholic mother. “Everything around here is about money which is why I hate it.” And, there is Arthird, a nickname for Robert the III who is living off his parents. He wants to be called Rob, and to continue in college. Seems he and Inez were caught in a love tryst when Namoo snooped on them. Namoo is delighted at the pairing. That pairing would “give the family some diversity.” Jean sees Inez as a “fortune hunter.” And it is her fortune she is thinking about.

In between the plot twists and turns by Jean and Robert Jr, there is a surprise ending I could not have predicted. It is a hell of a surprise. And, I will not spoil it. Someone is doomed to die. Wonder whom it will be?

Jeff G. Rack did a wonderful job with his set which created an old but affluent living room with dark green walls, an open doorway leading to a hall and a stairwell. There is a fireplace, Christmas tree, comfortable but worn couch and chairs with a tapestry rug and built in bookshelves.

The cast of Lloyd Pedersen (Robert Jr.), Rhonda Lord (Jean Woodley), Justin Huff (Arthird), Ilona Kulinska (Beanie), Nan Tepper (Namoo), and Christine Uhebe (Inez) did a great job in working as a fine ensemble under Larry Eisenberg’s direction.

“Money isn’t everything.” Or, is it? Does love of family mean more than money?

At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Oct 9, 2014