A little late to this party, there are many reviews out already about how Pillsbury House’s latest production is “compelling” and leaves you with “a lot to ponder.” I wholeheartedly agree, and Pillsbury House, in my limited experience, continues to provide the community with current, thought provoking, and controversial scripts. This is no exception. ≈[almost equal to], by Swedish playwright, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, not only translates delightfully into English by Rachel Willson-Broyles, but effortlessly into our American capitalist structure. It is truly is an eye-opening example of the current climate in society today.
The set is fantastic and, even after my initial questioning of the Party City gaudy gold banner, I soon discovered it’s physical metaphor for the flashy, fakeness of fame and fortune. Why it’s as obnoxiously demonstrative as our president’s overly shellacked hairline! Set designer, Christopher Heilman, uses the space efficiently and cleverly with cinematic changes akin to a professional ‘sleight of hand.’ Costumes and costume pieces, by the always prolific Amber Brown, are added and subtracted easily, just enough to highlight the actors and keep the story moving. The performances are tremendous, with personal favorites, Sun Mee Chomet’s MARTINA 2 and FREJA, and Randy Reyes’ multiple quick witted sharp tongued personalities. I appreciated the use of a multi-ethnic cast playing all parts regardless of race and/or gender, yet another effective way of showing the universal economic effects on everyone. The individuals are tragically funny yet relatable and brutally show the angel and devil inside us all. It definitely holds up the mirror and forces us to ask tough questions, like “why?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this play, how to summarize my experience, understand the underlying theme, and why it’s so important right now. “More money more problems” as they say. Is it any wonder that we have a billionaire reality TV show host as the head of our country? The word “greed” is one to be bandied about. Not one character in the play is satisfied with the status quo, everybody wants more! From ANDREJ (Jay Owen Eisenberg) the recent graduate resentfully applying for every available entry level job; to MARTINA (Tracey Maloney), a woman from a wealthy family deciding to steal from her minimum wage employer purely for the financial and physical high it provides her: The need/desire for more money is the root of the problems. It also begs the question (pun intended) are the homeless asking for change actually pocketing more than someone clocking in hours on the minimum wage? From employment offices to convenience stores to college classrooms to sidewalk busking, WHO is actually achieving the American Dream? Anyone? In fact what IS the American Dream anymore?...anyone?
I did a little web searching and it appears that the original idea of the American Dream, began as early as the Industrial Revolution and carried into the post WWII era. The simple definition was that every person had the right to achieve the following:
“To provide for their families food and shelter; To own property and a home; To be free from tyranny and oppression, (be it in in daily life or to have rights as a worker); To be able to worship as they wish; To see their children have opportunities for education and better lives; and to be paid a fair wage and not be enslaved with no hope- as it was in most of the world.” The above is every reason why people traveled across land and great seas to come to America.” (from yahoo questions)
I’m wondering if we’ve begun to take these ideals for granted. Many (certainly not all) Americans have had these principals as their reality for quite some time and so it’s boring? Not a challenge? Not en vogue? When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, what do we hear? “Rapper,” “Basketball Player,” “Kim Kardashian,” “Rich.” These days, we do not choose to emulate the philosophers, the peacemakers, the teachers, the philanthropists, instead we want to make money, because money in this country speaks volumes! Big banks, Big Pharma, Wall Street, and The Entertainment Industry, are the people who run the country, who have the power, whose voices are heard! Capitalism at its zenith. It seems to me, that the idea of “freedom” in this day and age, is less about the freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, (our humble beginnings), but the freedom of earnings potential, implying that if you have enough money, you’re worth more than everybody else. Does this then mean you are exempt from the responsibilities of human decency?
I’m sorry to wax political but as per my UX (or user experience, described by economics professor, MANI, Randy Reyes), in seeing the show and in the country and world today, I welcome the question “how do I work for change?” Thank you Ms. Willson-Broyles for posing it and thank you Pillsbury House for holding up this ugly but truthful mirror. I don’t have an answer but I’m thinking. I encourage readers to challenge themselves and do the same. See this show, think about it. HOW do we turn our modern American Dream from constant monetary hunger and greed to inclusion, compromise and embracing change? If you figure it out, please let me know. ≈[almost equal to] will be playing at Pillsbury House through October 22, 2017.