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'Abundance' full of dark twists PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sentinel-Tribune Staff   
Thursday, 14 February 2013 11:05
Eli Brickey (left) with Kendra Beitzel in ‘Abundance’ at BGSU (Photo: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
"Abundance" begins and ends with two women, Macon and Bess, sitting on a bench together whistling.
That tuneful framing emphasizes just how much has changed from when the women first met.
Macon (Kendra Beitzel) identifies Bess (Eli Brickey) right away as a kindred spirit. "We're the same," she declares.
That's true until it's not, and that's the central irony around which this play of shifting fortunes revolves.
"Abundance" opens tonight at 8 and continues this weekend and next at the Eva Marie Saint Theatre in Bowling Green State University's Wolfe Center for the Arts.
Macon and Bess are mail order brides, waiting at the station for their intendeds. Bess has been there 10 days, and fears she will be stood up. She's out of money, so Macon's offer of a biscuit serves to cement their relationship.
She is wary, of course, but still full of hope, entertaining fairy tale notions of what this marriage may mean.
Macon is exuberant, full of words, such an abundance of words that she's already planning to write a book.
"I'll put you in it," she promises her new friend.
"I'm drunk with western fever," Macon declares.  She talks about going out "to hunt the elephant."
Still they fret over their prospective husbands, and worry that they may be ugly.
Disappointment awaits on the plains as well as hope Bess soon finds out. She is retrieved not by the man who courted her by mail and talked of his love of singing, but by his sullen and downright mean brother Jack Flan (Dylan Stretchbery). The brother is dead, but Jack is claiming Bess as his own. He knocks her down for crying within seconds of meeting her.
This is not "Little House on the Prairie."
No sooner have they gone than William Curtis (Casey Toney) comes to get Macon. He's eager to meet his bride, and please her. But she notes his missing eye, lost in a mining accident, and scarred left cheek. Later she tells Bess even without the missing eye she would find him "repulsive."
We watch as their lives diverge and converge in surprising ways. As the Curtises flourish through hard work, smart decisions and luck,  Flan and Bess flounder. Flan is the ne'er-do-well with illusions of toughness, and they are near death as Christmas and winter comes upon them. Bess, who has lost a baby, seems to collapse within herself, shrinking as the others, especially the men, belittle her.
The play covers 24 years of their lives. Directed by Sara Chambers, the Beth Henley script requires the characters react and adapt both gradual changes in conditions and sudden twists.
The actors, who are joined in the second act by Eric Batts as a charismatic professor on the make, fill in these emotional highlights and shadows with subtlety.
They do this in the spare setting of the Eva Marie Saint, exposed on all sides, just as their characters are exposed to the elements. Props are strung from the ceiling, dropping down as needed. This highlights how something as simple as a bag of cornmeal can mean so much to impoverished people ... and how it can be unexpectedly freighted with meaning.
How was Bess to know Jack Flan's brother died by choking on a hunk of cornbread while riding?
Henley's use of this cruel irony is indicative of her dark humor that draws laughs from an audience that just before was wincing at a bit of brutality.

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