|Scarcity, Aug. - Oct. 2007|
30-7-07: Weiss, Johnston to headline Atlantic Thater Copmany's "Scarcity"
by Robert Kahn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
One-time stars of TV's "The Pretender" and "Third Rock From the Sun" will headline "Scarcity," the first production of the 2007-2008 season from the Atlantic Theater Company -- the off-Broadway playhouse that launched the Tony-winning hit "Spring Awakening."
Michael T. Weiss and Kristen Johnston are among cast members signed on for the world premiere of the Lucy Thurber play, the story of two siblings whose aspirations to escape the confines of poverty and small-town life come into conflict with their sense of family responsibility. The drama will begin previews on August 29 ahead of a Sept. 20 opening at the Atlantic, on West 20th Street in Manhattan. 2 Hours with one intermission.
Aside from Weiss and Johnston, a member of the Atlantic Company, the co-stars include Jesse Eisenberg ("The Squid and the Whale", Joaquin Phoenix's "The Village"), Maggie Kiley (the upcoming Joaquin Phoenix film "We Own the Night") and Miriam Shor ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch," stage and film).
Thurber makes her Atlantic debut with "Scarcity." Her play "Stay" was presented Off-Broadway last season. Director Jackson Gay returns to the Atlantic where he directed the Pulitzer Prize-nominated production of Rolin Jones' "The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow."
Call 212-279-4200 or visit www.atlantictheater.org for ticket information.
Kristen Johnston to Star in Atlantic's "Scarcity" World Premiere
By Kenneth Jones, 30 Jul 2007
The world premiere of Lucy Thurber's Scarcity, a drama of familial loyalty, class status and personal aspirations, starts Aug. 29 at the Atlantic Theater Company's Off-Broadway home, with Kristen Johnston among cast members.
The new work (Thurber's Atlantic debut) opens Sept. 20 for a run through Oct. 14. The troupers directed by Jackson Gay will include Atlantic members Kristen Johnston ("Third Rock From the Sun," Atlantic's The Lights), Maggie Kiley (Atlantic's The Lesson, Frame 312) and Todd Weeks (Atlantic's The Voysey Inheritance, Broadway's Full Monty) and Meredith Brandt, Jesse Eisenberg ("The Squid and the Whale"), Miriam Shor (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and Michael T. Weiss (NBC's "The Pretender," the feature film "Jeffrey").
Performances will play Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 W. 20th Street, NY 10011.
"Set in rural western Massachusetts, Scarcity tells the tale of two siblings whose aspirations to escape the confines of poverty and small town life come into direct conflict with their sense of family responsibility," according to Atlantic notes. "When 16-year-old Billy is afforded an opportunity to change schools and move out of town by an unusually attentive young teacher, his family starts to unravel around him. In this raw, emotionally rich world premiere new drama from playwright Lucy Thurber explores the stark reality of how class in America shapes our very image of ourselves."
Thurber's play Stay was presented Off-Broadway last season; her other plays include Where We're Born, Ashville, Killers and Other Family and Monstrosity. Jackson Gay returns to Atlantic, where she directed the Pulitzer Prize finalist production of Rolin Jones' The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow and Kia Corthron's Master Disaster for the 10x20 one act festival at Atlantic Stage 2.
The design team features scenic design by Walt Spangler, costume design by Ilona Somogyi, lighting design by Jeff Lyons and sound design by Daniel Baker.
"Scarcity" will play will play Tuesday through Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM.
Tickets for main stage productions are $55 and available by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or at ticketcentral.com.
For more information, visit www.atlantictheater.org.
Read also: Broadway.com ; TheaterMania ; BroadwayWorld ; San Francisco Gate.com
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by Lucy Thurber
with Meredith Brandt
Michael T. Weiss
directed by Jackson Gay
Set in rural western Massachusetts, Scarcity tells the tale of two siblings whose aspirations to escape the confines of poverty and small town life come into direct conflict with their sense of family responsibility. When sixteen-year-old Billy is afforded an opportunity to change schools and move out of town by an unusually attentive young teacher, his family starts to unravel around him. In this raw, emotionally rich world premiere drama, up and-coming playwright Lucy Thurber explores the stark reality of how class in America shapes our very image of ourselves.
August 29 - October 14 ; Tue-Fri at 8, Sat at 2 & 8, Sun at 3
At The Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Street (bet. 8th & 9th)
For official photos from the production and from some fans who have met Michael T. Weiss after the shows click here.
Theater Review | 'Scarcity' - Down-Home Dysfunction and Backwoods Perversity
by Charles Isherwood, published: September 21, 2007
"Rachel, get your father a beer and come sit on my lap," says the sodden dad to his 11-year-old daughter in Lucy Thurber's "Scarcity," an unconvincing and at times rancid slice of white-trash life that opened last night at the Atlantic Theater Company.
Meredith Brandt plays a girl trying to bring order to a dissolute household, and Michael T. Weiss plays her father, in "Scarcity."
Little Rachel, wise beyond her years and inured to Dad's inappropriate behavior, hands over a beer but declines to fulfill the rest of the request. This doesn't stop Daddy from making an admiring appraisal of Rachel's shapeliness. From the kitchen, Mother brays perfunctory disapproval while her cousin, who happens also to be the cop who brought Dad home in handcuffs, cleans the vomit off his uniform.
Just an average night in this beer-stained, cigarette-butt- ridden household in the hills of western Massachusetts, where Rachel (Meredith Brandt) and her 16-year-old brother, Billy (Jesse Eisenberg), do their best to bring discipline and order to the chaos in the living room, while Mom and Dad carry on like irresponsible teenagers. Martha (Kristen Johnston) actually holds down a job, but Herb (Michael T. Weiss) mostly holds a Jim Beam bottle in one hand and a Rolling Rock in the other. To pass the leisure hours they have noisy sex while the children listen in mournful and/or mortified silence in the living room.
For Billy at least, rescue from this aromatic squalor may be at hand. He has caught the affectionate eye of one of his teachers at the local "progressive" school, the prim-looking Miss Roberts (Maggie Kiley), who urges Billy to keep up the good work, and offers to help him apply for entry to a prestigious boarding school nearby.
But Miss Roberts is not as dainty as she appears, and would seem to have a little quid pro quo in mind. As they sit on the worn plaid couch discussing Billy's academic future, her weird conversation moves from genial cliché (New York is truly "the city that never sleeps," adolescence is "such an exciting time in one's life") to panting insinuations.
"You dream such beautiful dreams," she purrs dreamily, although this is news to the audience, since Billy seems to be a smart but otherwise unexceptional youngster. "You're so connected to your body. Do you know how rare it is to be sensual and intelligent?" Ick.
Ick, in fact, sums up my overall response to Ms. Thurber's academic-feeling foray into the underbrush of American culture. It's not that the workaday struggles and sufferings of the socioeconomic class Ms. Thurber aims to depict are of no intrinsic dramatic interest. Playwrights of various stripes, from Sam Shepard to Martin McDonagh and Tracy Letts, have found the diurnal traumas of the unlucky and insolvent to be fertile territory for both comedy and compassionate drama.
But Ms. Thurber's portrait of a food-stamp family in high dysfunctional mode almost never rings true, despite the careful use of double negatives and the attention paid to the usual earmarks of fictional American poverty, from Mom and Dad's affection for boozing and brawling to the bowling bag discreetly placed behind the vinyl recliner patched with duct tape. (The set design by Walt Spangler has at least a superficial authenticity.)
Tonally, the play veers unevenly from lowbrow insult comedy on the order of "Married ... With Children" - that wimpy cop cousin, Louie (Todd Weeks), and his browbeaten wife, Gloria (Miriam Shor), are the butt of much of the nastier humor - to sincere but forced attempts to engender sympathy for these emotionally endangered children and their benighted parents.
Rachel is preternaturally smart, just like her math-whiz brother. (She's read all of Jane Austen.) She also possesses a talent for prophecy, and is haunted by dreams of annihilation. And yet the character is also exploited for cheap laughs. When not dumbfounding Miss Roberts with her trenchant analysis of "Persuasion," Rachel rolls out expletive-ridden wisecracks and her own series of sour, malignant insults.
The inconsistencies in Ms. Thurber's characterizations are too many to enumerate, and implausibilities also abound. (At one point Billy marvels at the presence of a salad bar at the fancy academy he'll be attending; surely adolescents even in the uncultured wilds of Massachusetts are not so easily impressed.) Taking the prize for sheer inanity is the psychological composition of Miss Roberts, whose depiction as a clueless upper-crust do-gooder-cum-pedophile seems designed to immunize Ms. Thurber from accusations of class condescension.
Unsurprisingly, the director, Jackson Gay, never settles on a persuasive tone. The actors seem to have been left to make sense of their characters as best they can.
Mr. Eisenberg, so charming in the movie "The Squid and the Whale," is a capable and affecting actor, but his high-energy approach here - Billy is so keyed up he spends much of the play virtually on point in his running shoes - is overstated and at times distracting. Mr. Weiss manages to suggest there's a soul somewhere inside the loutish Herb, and Ms. Johnston, a naturally commanding presence and a sly comic actress, is dryly funny when she is not required to be simply shrill.
Best to pass over the game efforts of the unfortunate Ms. Kiley, who deserves the actor's equivalent of combat pay for her ludicrous role. I confidently hope that the gruesome scene in which Miss Roberts is mocked and degraded by both Billy and Rachel will be the most excruciating 10 minutes I spend at the theater this season.
By Lucy Thurber; directed by Jackson Gay; sets by Walt Spangler; costumes by Ilona Somogyi; lighting by Jason Lyons; sound by Daniel Baker; music by Jason Mills; production stage manager, Marion Friedman; production manager, New Medium; general manager, Jamie Tyrol; associate artistic director, Christian Parker. Presented by the Atlantic Theater Company, Neil Pepe, artistic director; Andrew D. Hamingson, managing director. At the Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, Chelsea; (212) 279-4200. Through Oct. 14. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
With: Meredith Brandt (Rachel), Jesse Eisenberg (Billy), Kristen Johnston (Martha), Maggie Kiley (Ellen Roberts), Miriam Shor (Gloria), Todd Weeks (Louie) and Michael T. Weiss (Herb).
Source: The New York Times
Off Broadway - Scarcity
Kirsten Johnston, and Michael T. Weiss, star in 'Scarcity,' Lucy Thurber's sensitive portrayal of life on the wrong side of the tracks, directed by Jackson Gay.
(Linda Gross Theater; 165 seats; $55 Top)
By Marilyn Stasio
Posted: Thurs., Sep. 20, 2007, 6:00pm PT
New York - An Atlantic Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Lucy Thurber. Directed by Jackson Gay.
Rachel - Meredith Brandt
Martha - Kristen Johnston
Louie - Todd Weeks
Herb - Michael T. Weiss
Billy - Jesse Eisenberg
Miss Roberts - Maggie Kiley
Gloria - Miriam Shor
Every savvy theater company in town seems to want a piece of Lucy Thurber, whose painfully funny plays set in gritty Massachusetts factory towns have already made their mark at such venues as Playwrights Horizons and Manhattan Theater Club. The Atlantic Theater Company makes the most of its turn with helmer Jackson Gay's pitch-perfect production of "Scarcity," in which the scribe opens a fresh vein to expand on her signature theme of smart, sensitive young people struggling with the necessity of cutting ties with their low-class roots and loser towns.
Kristen Johnston ("The Lights," "3rd Rock From the Sun") heads up the well-oiled ensemble as Martha, a hard-working woman who survives on sheer grit, cheerfully holding down a slave-wage job at the local mall to keep her family intact and their heads above the poverty line.
As enthusiastic about marital sex (and the brawls that precede it) as she is sloppy about housekeeping, Martha is the sort of woman who shares her cigarettes with her 16-year-old son and tosses a beer to her husband after bailing him out of jail.
In a sitcom, Martha would be written and played for mean laughs. This complex character gets a much fairer shake from Thurber, who perceptively views her as an uneducated but intelligent woman who knows what's best for her family and makes it happen -- no matter the personal cost.
And in Johnston's acutely sympathetic portrayal, this earthy wife and understanding mother acquires a vital physical presence, coming alive as a really great broad with a lot of heart.
Of the comically clueless adults who orbit Martha's light-giving star, no one has an inkling of the good/bad changes that she can sense coming around the bend. Certainly not her quarrelsome cousin, Louie (Todd Weeks), who is forever bursting through the door -- often pursued by his slatternly wife, Gloria (Miriam Shor) -- in the vain hope of jumping her bones.
And surely not Martha's worthless husband, Herb (Michael T. Weiss), a slovenly if still sexy wreck of a man in Weiss' brawny (and subversively brainy) performance, who drinks when he's happy and drinks when he's sad and clings to his wife and kids for confirmation of his essential worth.
Herb may be dumb and dangerously prone to violence, but as Weiss reads his fogged-up mind in flashes of startling insight, he's not stupid or insensitive. Like those inarticulate lower-class characters in Beatles song narratives, the big dope can even be eloquent. "You remember me, don't you?" he asks Martha, in a quiet, beautifully written moment between fights and sex. "I'm counting on you. I might as well be dead, otherwise."
Martha's response -- "I miss you more than you will ever know " -- is every bit as devastating.
Although it's normal to expect any kids of this turbulent union to be carbon copies of their elders, Martha and Herb have produced two preternaturally smart children who are protective of their parents in the way that children who grow up in dysfunctional households tend to be.
These kids are not only smart, they're clever. Sneaking in and out of the house like a thief, Billy (Jesse Eisenberg in a tightly coiled perf) is secretly plotting his escape by seducing Miss Roberts (Maggie Kiley), a young teacher with the connections to get him a scholarship to Deerfield Academy. In Billy's desperation to get away from home, he is abandoning Rachel (Meredith Brandt), his much brainier but defenseless 11-year-old sister.
As young Brandt plays her -- with fierce intelligence behind a facade of little-girl goofiness -- Rachel is way ahead of everyone in the family, but unable to be a proper caretaker for any one, including herself. And with Billy running out on her, her best chance for survival is to make an end run at Miss Roberts herself.
Thurber writes with both humor and pathos about this household, whose family values of love and loyalty are constantly put to the test in an environment of poverty, ignorance and casual violence.
Behind the snappy dialogue and brazenly comic characterizations, she also shows genuine tenderness toward people who rarely get that kind of treatment on the stage. And that's all reason enough to peg this scribe as a keeper.
Sets, Walt Spangler; costumes Ilona Somogyi; lighting, Jason Lyons; sound, Daniel Baker; original music, Jason Mills; production stage manager, Marion Friedman. Opened Sept. 20, 2007. Reviewed Sept. 13. Running time: 1 hour, 50 min.
Source: VarietyDate in print: Fri., Sep. 21, 2007, Gotham
Growing Up and Breaking Out
by Eric Grode - September 21, 2007
As Stephen once wrote for a youngster growing up under treacherous circumstances, Little Red Ridinghood, "Isn't it nice to know a lot? / And a little bit not."
Earlier in Sondheim's "Into The Woods," Little Red also points out that "nice is different than good." Current case in point: the shambolic yet oddly affectionate family at the center of "Scarcity," Lucy Thurber's engrossing look at ambition and ambivalence on the wrong side of the tracks. Little Red's moral distinction is borne out by each and every of Ms. Thurber's cantankerous family members - including another little girl growing up quicker than she'd prefer.
Herb (Michael T. Weiss) may return to his western Massachusetts home in handcuffs many nights, ushered by his cop cousin-in-law, Louie (Todd Weeks), and the dialogue between him and his wife, Martha (Kristen Johnston, who adds a bruised melancholy to her usual comic persona with remarkable ease), frequently devolves into paint-blistering profanity. But the family members all seem to make an effort, however shortsighted or even perverse, to act in the interests of the others. That includes their two kids, 16-year-old Billy (Jesse Eisenberg) and his precocious younger sister, Rachel (Meredith Brandt), both of whom appear to have a lot more IQ points than they do options. Billy is having a particularly hard time reconciling his rough-hewn background with his newfound options at the Progressive school. This struggle draws him into a dangerously close relationship with Miss Roberts (Maggie Kiley), an attractive young Ivy League graduate looking to study how the other half learns. Ms. Thurber and director Jackson Gay have crafted an uncomfortable yet eminently watchable Northeastern Gothic out of the mutually beneficial but nonetheless treacherous relationship between Miss Roberts, with her toxic strain of "noble savage" condescension, and the volatile Billy, who is exploding with a desire to get into a boarding school and out of that house. Walt Spangler's set and Ilona Somogyi's costumes certainly help make his case. From Louie's vomit-caked uniform (courtesy of Herb) to the duct-taped recliner to the generic can of cola that Billy uses to treat a black eye (Martha forgot to refill the ice tray), the aesthetic is one of benign neglect personified. "You come out to towns like this, and it's as if time stood still," Miss Roberts naivety gushes to Billy, who clearly would have chosen a different hour to stop the clock.
As strong as Ms. Thurber's ear is for the upheavals of family life in close quarters, both before and after the intrusion of this moneyed interloper, the author has a tendency to drown out these gentler, truer chords with metaphors. This holds especially true for Rachel's incessant manipulation of her Tarot cards, an unnecessary extension of the author's fatalism. "Scarcity" has strong, messy, vibrant characters, the sort who could and would make their needs known without resorting to these sorts of devices.
But while their needs are occasionally overstated, their motivations remain pleasingly inscrutable. It's never clear whether Billy's feelings toward Miss Roberts are affectionate or confused or purely mercenary, and this seems somehow appropriate. Adolescence isn't known for its emotional exactitude, and Ms. Thurber and Mr. Gay are wise to back off on the specifics. (They are fortunate enough to have in Mr. Eisenberg a young actor more than capable of juggling these intricate feelings.) Some of the dynamics among Herb, Martha, and the covetous Louie delve into similarly oblique nooks and crannies, and the overall impression is of a messed-up family being true to one another in their fashion.
"The trick is, kid, you've got to learn to ignore us," Herb uselessly counsels Rachel after one blowup. "If you can, just learn to do that; you'll be okay." It is her and Billy's curse, of course, that this is impossible. And while forgetting Herb, Martha, and their raucous brood may be more feasible for the rest of us, I wouldn't recommend it.
Until October 14 (336 W. 20th St., between Eighth and Ninth avenues, 212-239-6200).
Source: The New York Sun
Odd Trailer-park Sentiments & Sensitivity
by Frank Scheck
Rating: 2 ** (out of 4)
September 21, 2007 -- An updated spin on "Tobacco Road" as filtered through Sam Shepard, Lucy Thurber's "Scarcity," which opened last night, depicts the desperate lives of a rural family in western Massachusetts.
Married couple Martha (Kristen Johnston) and Herb (Michael T. Weiss) are barely making ends meet, what with his spending more time drinking than seeking employment and her stuck working endless hours in a dead-end job.
Their sensitive children, 11-year-old Rachel (Meredith Brandt) and her older brother, Billy (Jesse Eisenberg, from "The Squid and the Whale"), are clearly intelligent, but their futures, unlike those of the "rich kids on the hill," look dubious.
That is, until Billy's teacher (Maggie Kiley, from upcoming "We Own the Night") takes him under her wing, helping him procure a scholarship to a prestigious prep school. Unfortunately, as was the case with such infamous teachers as Mary Kay Letourneau, she's not just focused on the boy's education.
Billy's parents aren't entirely opposed to the situation if it will help their boy, but that's in keeping with their general level of behavior. Herb is fond of making such observations as "You've got a nice ass for a kid your age" to his young daughter while Martha fights off the advances of her lecherous married cousin (Todd Weeks) even while subtly encouraging them.
But while the play offers no shortage of luridly fun moments - the performers are clearly having a great time diving into their juicy roles - it never quite settles on what it wants to be.
Shifting awkwardly between Gothic caricature and sensitive character exploration (most notably in its well-drawn depiction of the sexually troubled teacher), it fails on both levels, lacking the necessary outrageousness for the former and the insight for the latter.
Director Jackson Gay is ultimately unable to reconcile the work's conflicting elements, with the result that the real scarcity here is that of substance.
Source: New York Post
Reviewed By: Dan Bacalzo, Sep 21, 2007
Kristen Johnston, Michael T. Weiss, and Jesse Eisenberg give strong, nuanced performances in the world premiere of Lucy Thurber's Scarcity, which is getting its world premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater. While the play, directed by Jackson Gay, is compelling, it's marred by a few significant flaws.
Scarcity is set in a small town in Western Massachusetts, where Martha (Johnston) works hard to support her family with little help from her alcoholic deadbeat husband Herb (Weiss). She is occasionally assisted with bill paying and groceries by her cousin Louie (Todd Weeks), who makes no secret of his amorous intentions towards her, despite his being married to Gloria (Miriam Shor).
Martha and Herb's children, 16-year-old Billy (Eisenberg) and 11-year-old Rachel (Meredith Brandt), are both intellectually gifted, but are constantly in danger of being stifled by their home life. Billy bottles up his anger, which still manifests in fist fights with classmates, and longs for a chance to escape. The attentions of his teacher Ellen (Maggie Kiley) offer him an opportunity to transfer to an out-of-town private school, but her interest goes beyond the bounds of propriety.
Thurber sets up her action in an engaging manner, and the central four-person family unit is well-defined. Johnston is wonderful as Martha, bringing a warmth to the character -- particularly in her more comedic moments -- but also displaying a strength of will that makes her dangerous. Martha knows what compromises she needs to make in the best interests of her family, but she'll only allow herself to be pushed so far. Weiss manages the difficult feat of making Herb utterly detestable (the inappropriate comments he makes about his daughter are particularly nauseating), yet still pathetically sympathetic.
Eisenberg lets Billy's emotions simmer just underneath the surface, occasionally exploding into a rage, or clamping down to avoid doing just that. While Billy manipulates Ellen for his own ends, we never lose sight of his own vulnerability and how much it may be costing him to act the way that he does. Brandt still needs to work on her vocal projection and enunciation, but she succeeds in making us care about Rachel, and the young girl's uncertain fate at the end of the play seems the most tragic.
Unfortunately, Thurber is not as adept at fleshing out the remaining characters, or making their actions completely legible. Ellen, in particular, is an enigma -- perhaps due to the fact that Kiley seems completely miscast. Several times in the script, characters make disparaging remarks about Ellen's appearance, yet Kiley is not only beautiful, she also comes across as superbly sophisticated. If she were more of a plain Jane or downright ugly and socially awkward, then her improper conduct towards Billy might seem more dramatically sound. Even then, the character as written seems woefully underdeveloped.
Shor makes the most of a rather minor role, bringing a humanity to Gloria's sullen resentment of Martha, which could easily slip into caricature. On the other hand, Weeks comes on too strong as Louie. True, the character is a jerk, but the actor doesn't need to drive the point home in as broad a manner as he does.
The most troubling aspect of the play, however, is an inconsistency of tone. There's a sit-com-like feel to several of the scenes that undermines the work's more serious intent. Thurber's goal seems to be to capture the fears and desires of this family that needs to fight to escape the pitfalls of its economic circumstances. Gay's direction mines the play's dark humor, but the audience often seems to be laughing at these lower-class characters in a way that is very problematic.
Theatre Review by Matthew Murray, 9-20-07
There's not much voting, you'll meet no Presidential candidates, and for all the characters we meet "red" and "blue" are colors and not ideologies. Nonetheless, Scarcity stakes an early claim to the title of the best political play of the 2008 campaign - and maybe the 2007-2008 theatre season.
Lucy Thurber's probing drama is receiving only an adequate production at the Atlantic Theater Company under Jackson Gay's direction, but the subtleties and exigencies of living life on the brink burn brightly through their everyday surroundings. Centering on a family living just above the poverty line in western Massachusetts, Scarcity dissects and vivisects the concerns of the lower class and the upper crust that's always so certain it knows better.
Martha (Kristen Johnston), who works 50 hours a week at a dead-end job, is married to the alcoholic and unemployable Herb (Michael T. Weiss), much to the chagrin of local lawman Louie (Todd Weeks), who's long harbored a crush on Martha and frequently has to return a drunken Herb to her in handcuffs. Martha and Herb's children are the brilliant Billy (Jesse Eisenberg), who just started at a new high school for gifted students, and Rachel (Meredith Brandt), who wants to accelerate herself there immediately and skip some four grades in the process. Those goals might be attainable, however, with the help of first-time-out teacher Ellen (Maggie Kiley), who's taken an interest both in Billy's future and in Billy himself.
Yet this is no soap opera, in which easy relationships are examined with a tidy, numbing predictability. Self-esteem and patience, like money, are in lethally short supply, and no one is willing to waste what few moments they have left on things bereft of meaning. For Billy this means taking what he can while the taking is good, regardless of whom he has to leave behind. Rachel's obsession with things yet to be takes the form of a deck of tarot cards she wields with the threatening prowess of a switchblade, and results that are often as bloody. Louie sees no future without Martha; Louie's cast-aside wife Gloria (Miriam Shor) sees no future with her. Martha's lucky if she can see anything at all, and Herb only seems to have eyes for Rachel.
All the foresight and myopia converge in the young-old-money Ellen, whose condescending do-gooding - with the best of intentions and the worst of results - suavely underscores the tension of a nation in which no one wishes to be told how they must live. Progress is not for everyone; learning to cope with the inertia of existence is all that some can hope for. With very little fanfare, Thurber's play explores each of the characters tendencies toward motion or inaction, focusing with abrasive clarity on what they need to be happy - or just merely be. The only curse, which hovers above everyone in Scarcity, is not being able to live up to whatever your potential is.
This is made clear only in one scene, set in the wake of an explosive card night with Louie and Gloria, in which Martha tearfully contemplates the disintegration of her life as lived with Herb. Johnston progresses so gradually and so naturally from elation to despair in recollecting her faded beauty that she momentarily recalls Amanda Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie: the woman of promise who's faded into irrelevance. A few other isolated moments, related to Louie's decibel-heavy exclamations drawing on his sexual rage or Gloria's dissatisfaction with the life he's given her, suggest deeper explorations of these characters deceptively normal problems.
Otherwise, the performances tend to derive from stridency, skirting dangerously close to the realm of the Bundy clan from TV's Married With Children. But Thurber's group isn't made up of laughable losers - their plight is real, the children's need to escape from it for purposes of survival is genuine. In Gay's production, only Walt Spangler's cluttered tract-housing set reinforces the pressures toward conformity that alternately energize and enervate these people. Everything else serves as a form of commenting on them, including the lighting (by Jason Lyons) that employs enough flash-bulb effects to make you feel their life is the subject of a newspaper expose on the silent victims of President Bush's tax cuts.
But Martha, Herb, and the rest don't need to be explained with the theatrical equivalents of quotation marks. They speak for themselves, their pride (or shame) of place telling us all we need to know about who they are and where they are (or are not) going. Scarcity, left to its own devices, is a bracing and compelling portrait of Middle America in crisis. But too often, this production - like Ellen - reminds us exactly why the meddling of outsiders can be far more dangerous than the problems we bring on ourselves.
Source: Talkin' Broadway - Off Broadway
September 20, 2007
By Paul Menard
It would be hard to argue that the premiere of Lucy Thurber's Scarcity at Atlantic Theater Company isn't topical. With America's rural communities currently experiencing a critical mass exodus of educated youth -- known as "rural flight" -- Thurber's explosive family drama about a brother and sister longing to escape poverty in small-town Massachusetts certainly is relevant.
Unfortunately, it's also predicable; while the topic may be timely, Thurber's gifted-boy-trying-to-escape-small-town story line sadly has very little to say that's actually new. Martha (3rd Rock From the Sun's Kristen Johnston) is the frazzled matriarch of her low-income family, working 50 hours a week at her dead-end job while her 16-year-old son, Billy (The Squid and the Whale's Jesse Eisenberg), and precocious 11-year-old daughter, Rachel (Meredith Brandt), essentially raise themselves. Faced with an alcoholic, out-of-work father and a dependency on food stamps, Billy plans his escape out of his impoverished home and into an exclusive prep school.
Combining rough-and-tumble naturalism with violent outbursts worthy of Cops reruns, Scarcity presents characters at their breaking points. Like a trailer-park Three Sisters, Thurber's well-drawn characters may dream of getting to the big city but are often unwilling or unable to change their situations. Though it's thankfully injected with Thurber's charmingly offbeat humor -- delivered with deadpan hilarity by the young Brandt -- Scarcity never offers any real insights, opting instead for clichés about low-income America.
Director Jackson Gay keeps the production reined in -- perhaps a bit too tightly -- and, like Thurber, goes for easy choices, such as momentum-crippling blackouts. And though Scarcity boasts an impressive cast, the performances are disappointingly spotty. Still, Johnston is an appropriately earthy and charming Martha, while Michael T. Weiss brings a surprising likability to Herb, Billy's drunken father. But for all its engaging moments, Scarcity remains a dissatisfying exercise in which opportunities for real depth are a bit, well, scarce.
Photo Call: Scarcity Opening Night
By Greg Kalafatas - 21 Sep 2007
Lucy Thurber's Scarcity, which began performances Aug. 29 at the Linda Gross Theater, opened Sept. 20 in a world premiere by the Atlantic Theater Company. [....]
Without giving too much away, Thurber told Playbill.com, "Scarcity is about the pull between the loyalty you feel for your family and the loyalty you feel towards your own personal dreams."
See Playbill for some photos from the opening-night party that also doubled as Kristen Johnston's birthday party.
September 21, 2007
Off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company is the troupe that spawned the Broadway hit "Spring Awakening," a musical about troubled teens in 19th century Germany. Thursday the company kicked off its fall season with a new work which also takes a look at teenage angst. NY1’s Roma Torre filed the following review of "Scarcity."
Lucy Thurber's new play "Scarcity" wants to be many things: a character study, a sitcom, a kitchen-sink drama, and even soap opera, yet despite a game effort from its talented company, "Scarcity" is scarcely ready for primetime. It's a play that over reaches and under achieves.
Set in a depressed rural town in western Massachusetts, we meet a highly dysfunctional family consisting of hopeless, irresponsible parents Martha and Herb, and their two gifted children, Billy,16, and his sister Rachel, 11.
The premise is a good one even though the execution falls short. Herb is an out-of-work drunk with more than a passing interest in his daughter's pre-pubescent body. Living off Martha's store clerk wages, their lives seem all but lost in a dead-end cycle of food stamps and foolish choices.
The dynamic is somewhat clichéd as the kids end up parenting their pathetic parents.
Hope comes in the form of a teacher who recognizes Billy's potential and aims to help him get out of his stifling environment. But the parents object, sensing that the teacher's interest in Billy is not entirely selfless.
The problem with the play is the way that playwright Thurber draws each character in bold outlines. Almost cartoony, everything seems to be played in a hyper reality – it's loud and laden with expletives. While it certainly gets your attention, it doesn't ring true to life.
There's a disconnect between who these people are and what they're doing. The conflicts seem contrived and some of the more animated scenes are so incredibly over the top, they become unintentionally funny.
Because the play is equal parts comedy and tragedy, the performances are a jarring variety of styles. Director Jackson Gay seems to be drawing on the works of Albee and Shepherd for inspiration, but to no avail.
Still there are moments. Kristen Johnston, always a pleasure to watch, barrels through the play like a trucker stuck in high gear. Michael T. Weiss is well cast as a loser who hasn't yet lost his charisma. Jesse Eisenberg makes Billy a jittery mass of teen angst and, 11-year-old Meredith Brandt holds her own impressively with the finesse and poise of a star in the making.
"Scarcity" can also be read as Scar City, which applies equally well to the story of a family damaged by ignorance and poverty. Unfortunately, once you get beneath the scars, there's not much else to care about.
- Roma Torre
This review has a little video clip from the play attached, which is certainly worth to check out!
Disturbing but vital drama
Expert production of 'Scarcity' reveals a family in crisis
Friday, September 21, 2007
Review - New York Stage
Where: Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St., New York
When: Through Oct. 14. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays
How much: $55. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.atlantictheater.org.
By Michael Sommers, Star-Ledger Staff
New York -- Ever know any youngsters whose parents -- due to booze, dope or whatever -- were dangerously out of control?
That's the miserable situation for a smart high school junior and his tween sister in "Scarcity," a gripping new play by Lucy Thurber, which opened yesterday at Atlantic Theater Company. Anybody seeking a sizzling hunk of red-blooded American realism should grab this show.
Billy (Jesse Eisenberg) and Rachel (Meredith Brandt) are extremely bright, attractive kids somehow spawned by trashy Martha (Kristen Johnston) and rowdy Herb (Michael T. Weiss), the town drunk.
Although these blue-collar parents are depicted as undeniably good-hearted people, they're hopeless low-lifes existing on food stamps or groceries supplied by Louie (Todd Weeks), Martha's unhappily married cousin who loves her more than a relative should.
The kids are creeped out by this fairly obvious relationship as much as they're weary of trying to keep their shiftless folks functioning.
Promoted into advanced classes, high-strung Billy is ragged to no end by his better-off peers and worries he might explode into violence.
Then Billy attracts the attention of Ellen (Maggie Kiley), a genteel young teacher who may be able to help him swing a scholarship to a swank boarding school.
When the naive Ellen's interest proves more than merely academic, Billy coldly manipulates her affections. Melancholy little Rachel fears that Billy will leave her behind to cope alone with their toxic parents.
Perhaps this story suggests a Jerry Springer-type scenario, but Thurber develops her characters with a compassionate eye and a sense of real-life humor that makes these happenings appear not so much sordid as pitiable.
Designer Walt Spangler's detailed setting for the family's shabby kitchen/living room is perfectly hideous with its grubby brown and yellow colors, mismatched plaids and battered furniture. Overflowing ashtrays, stray beer bottles and scarcely stashed litter reek of their slovenly existence. Composer Jason Mills' wired riffs of rock music and Jason Lyons' flaring lighting design divide the two-hour play's scenes with sharp bursts of energy.
Directing the play with sufficient taste to prevent all this from appearing too nasty, Jackson Gay has assembled a top-notch ensemble who bring the characters to life with effortless authenticity. The acting in general is typical of the Atlantic company's strongly physical approach to performance.
Johnston gives slapdash Martha an easy-breezy cheerfulness belied by a sense of animal cunning shared with Eisenberg's brooding Billy. Like his wife, Weiss' beery Herb -- a small-town hunk gone to pot -- proves not nearly as oblivious as he initially seems. Aside from a tendency to swallow some of her words, tiny, dark-haired Brandt offers a matter-of-fact yet touching presence as fatalistic Rachel.
Kiley's mousy Ellen, Weeks' loser of a Louie and Miriam Shor's cameo as Louie's strident wife are other capable turns.
Troubling though "Scarcity" may be, the expertise of the Atlantic's production and the intra-personal dependencies revealed by Thurber's story make for a thoroughly absorbing experience.
Michael Sommers may be reached at msommers(at)starledger.com or (212) 790-4434.
Source: The Star Ledger
Lucy Thurber and Kate Fodor on domestic dysfunction.
by Hilton Als - October 1, 2007
In Lucy Thurber's "Scarcity" (an Atlantic Theatre Company production at the Linda Gross), the thirty-something Martha (Kristen Johnston) is a case study in co-dependence. She both fights for her life and hands it over to Herb (Michael T. Weiss), her husband of almost twenty years. Even as he lurches in and out of his crummy La-Z-Boy, swilling whiskey and sputtering obscenities, you can't take too seriously the invective that Martha hurls at him - mostly because she doesn't. Martha is rather thrilled by the fact that her man has retained his bad-boy swagger after all these years. In her eyes, Herb was, and still is, a catch'a Sean Penn type, without the conscience. She'll never tame him; nor does she want to. Part of what makes Herb hot to Martha, despite his alcohol-induced blackouts and his inability to take care of his family, is his physical strength and his verbal cruelty. Herb makes Martha feel both protected and put-upon, like a sexy martyr.
The slovenly king of his castle, Herb keeps all his minions at his beck and call - not only Martha but their prepubescent daughter, Rachel (Meredith Brandt), about whose body he makes leering comments, and their adolescent son, Billy (Jesse Eisenberg). The audience's first thoughts are: Will Martha and Herb's cycle of abuse and self-abuse cause irreparable damage to their children? And how did Martha and Herb devolve from the beauties they once must have been - they're both tall and rangy, with a kind of flickering charm that cuts through their funk - into these semi-adults who recoil from hope, like babies from curdled milk? Gone are the days when Herb and Martha were escapees from a Bruce Springsteen song, filled with possibility. Twenty minutes or so into their bickering, you realize how much the couple seem to enjoy the tune they can't get out of their heads. It goes like this: Despair, destruction, despair. Blessedly, Thurber never explains how Martha and Herb came to this pass. Johnston and Weiss manage to stitch their characters' past into their present behavior, and they act up a storm while doing it; too much expository dialogue would have left them less time to explore. [....]
One cannot say enough about the actors here, particularly Johnston and Weiss. They have voices that were made for radio - sonorous and intimate, then funny and full of life - and they use them to express the inner lives of their rapidly disintegrating characters, who bellow because they need to feel something, because they need to believe that someone in the world can hear them. [....]
Full article at the
Source: The New Yorker
Poor family, rich opportunity
Friday, September 21, 2007
By Robert Feldberg, Staff writer
I don't know much about Lucy Thurber, the author of "Scarcity," which opened Thursday night at the Atlantic Theater Company. But I would guess her play is autobiographical. It's too aware of the emotional lives of poor people to be pure fiction.
The setting is a poverty pocket in the green hills of western Massachusetts, where the children in a damaged family yearn to escape.
Mom Martha, played with lively vulgarity by Kristen Johnston ("3rd Rock From the Sun"), works long hours at a mall shop. Dad Herb (Michael T. Weiss) is an alcoholic who doesn't work at all.
Their time together is spent smoking, drinking, swearing and having noisy sex whose sound echoes through their shabby house.
The kids, 16-year-old Billy (Jesse Eisenberg) and 11-year-old Rachel (Meredith Brandt), are super-bright, which is a blessing and a curse for them.
It's their means of getting away, but it will also separate them from their parents, and each other.
Thurber appreciates the push and pull of family life, the complexities that outsiders don't see. Probing beneath the stereotype of poor, uneducated, self-destructive people, she finds recognizable humanity.
In their coarse way, Martha and Herb love their kids, and Martha, in particular, is proud of their achievements.
Herb is an amiable drunk, not a violent one. He doesn't abuse his wife -- if he raised a hand to the strapping Martha, she'd probably knock his block off -- or his kids. They accept him, almost casually, as he is.
In a totally unexpected scene, Martha and Herb share a rare quiet talk amid the hurlyburly. They recall their youth, their wedding day, and how attractive and hopeful they were back then. (Herb is still handsome.)
Realizing this interlude will soon disappear into the messiness of their lives, Herb says, "Soon it will be like we never talked." Martha says, "I miss you more than you will ever know."
It's a lovely, sad, remarkably touching moment.
The children, particularly Billy, don't come into as clear a focus as their parents.
We're constantly reminded how smart Billy is, but we never quite see it. In Jesse Eisenberg's performance, he comes across as a run-of-the-mill sullen, unhappy teenager.
The intelligence, and maturity, of Rachel -- who I would imagine is the author as a girl -- is more persuasive, even as she eerily pursues a hobby of reading tarot cards. She's played winningly by Meredith Brandt, although the young actress doesn't always project her lines clearly.
With the arrival of the character who shakes up the household, the play unfortunately skids off the tracks.
Ellen (Maggie Kiley), an attractive, stylish young teacher, has taken a shine to Billy, and it's not because of his test scores. ("Do you know how rare it is to be sensual and intelligent?" she asks him. "God, you think such beautiful thoughts!")
The character, a rich, fancy, city lady, seems totally foreign to Thurber, who conveys little sense she knows how such a woman would speak or behave. Ellen seems to have been plucked from a titillating tabloid story.
She woos Billy -- who is much more sophisticated sexually than she is -- by helping him transfer, on full scholarship, to an elite prep school, all the while babbling away in stilted language that kept the audience laughing. ("I loved New York ... the city that never sleeps ... I've always wanted to work in education. My father's a law professor at Harvard. I had offers from some really fine prep schools, but I wanted to feel like I was making a difference, you know?")
The playwright obviously despises Ellen, and she might have conceived her as satire, but I don't think so.
Billy's departure means leaving Rachel, with whom he'd made a pact to stick together. That abandonment is emphasized at the end of the evening, but the playwright hasn't defined their relationship strongly enough to give the moment much emotional clout.
"Scarcity," vigorously directed by Jackson Gay, is extremely uneven. It does, however, offer a vital, sympathetic look at lives not often portrayed in the theater.
No 'Scarcity' of white trash in this play - Joe Dziemianowicz
Friday, September 21st 2007, 4:00 AM
Michael T. Weiss and Kristen Johnston play a couple who love to booze it up & have noisy sex in Lucy Thurber's 'Scarcity.' You're handed a Playbill when you arrive at "Scarcity."
You should get a squirt of Purell when you leave.
The urge to sanitize surges after watching the ugly antics Lucy Thurber has created in her new play, now open at the Atlantic Theater Co.'s Linda Gross Theater.
The story revolves around 16-year-old Billy (Jesse Eisenberg) and his 11-year-old sister, Rachel (Meredith Brandt), a couple of kids with high IQ's and two low-life parents, Martha (Kristen Johnston) and Herb (Michael T. Weiss).
The fight-prone Billy tries to use good grades and his adoring teacher, Ellen (Maggie Kiley), to get into boarding school. But it's a win-lose situation: If he escapes, Rachel's fate gets much bleaker.
Director Jackson Gay's production is brisk and energetic, and he has assembled a solid cast known from such TV shows as "The Pretender" and "3rd Rock From the Sun" and movies like "The Squid and the Whale."
Nonetheless, "Scarcity" is as gritty, insightful and subtle as "The Jerry Springer Show."
That TV freak fest seems to inform many of Thurber's characters, including Ellen, a well-educated rich girl with her own squalid issues.
Martha and Herb are the poster couple for cursing, chain-smoking, boozing white trash.
Martha won't hesitate to have noisy sex with Herb while their kids are within earshot. She's down with flirting with her cousin, Louie (Todd Weeks), so he'll keep paying her bills. Food stamps only go so far.
Herb can't resist informing Louie's wife, Gloria (Miriam Shor), she's got a fat rump, or, more chilling, telling daughter Rachel she has a "nice a- for a kid your age."
It might be gripping if we had a sense of how these people sank so low.
Beyond superficial characterizations, which causes the actors to push too hard, Thurber relies on a hoary device: Rachel reads tarot cards, and announces that she can't see her future. By the final fadeout, it, like everything in the play, is woefully obvious.
Source: NY Daily News
Off-Broadway review: Scarcity
By Michael Kuchwara, The Associated Press
September 22, 2007
New York - Forget you can't go home again. Some people have enough trouble just leaving the nest the first time.
Such a dilemma faces 16-year-old Billy, the troubled teen at the center of "Scarcity," Lucy Thurber's rambunctious tale of one poor, blue-collar family's convulsions over their son's quest for a better life.
The play, which opened Thursday at off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company, won't please folks of more refined, high-tone dramatic taste. "Scarcity," like most of its characters, is a bit messy, crude and rude. But it also is compulsively watchable.
Credit the outlandish dialogue and the gutsy cast, headed by Kristen Johnston and Michael T. Weiss, who portray the boisterous parents of two very circumspect children. Mom and Dad like to drink (especially Dad), have loud sex and often shout when delivering what should be normal conversation. "The trick, is kid, you've got to learn to ignore us," says Dad - not the kind of advice children should be receiving from their elders.
No wonder the offspring - super-bright Billy and his equally precocious 11-year-old sister, Rachel - seem to have a few quirks. Billy, in particular, suffers from spasms of uncontrollable violence. As played by the amazing, totally believable Jesse Eisenberg, he is an explosion waiting to happen.
When a young, pretty teacher (Maggie Kiley) takes an interest in Billy - too much as it turns out - the family begins to unravel even more. With the help of the teacher, the lad has a chance to attend a fancy prep school but first must get his parents' consent.
Billy's impending departure troubles his little sister (Meredith Brandt), a strange girl who is much more adult than the battling grown-ups around her. Rachel likes to tell fortunes and doesn't see much future in the bleak existence of her combative parents. She, too, longs to escape the confines of her life in a dreary, rural Massachusetts town.
Some of Thurber's melodramatic plot complications may be a little far-fetched, but the conversations ricochet nicely, particularly when the parents are fighting or when a cousin (Todd Weeks) and his sad-sack wife (Miriam Shor) show up to squabble on designer Walt Spangler's depressingly realistic kitchen-living room set.
Director Jackson Gay manages to corral the verbal fisticuffs when the bombast threatens to get out of control but, at the same time, she moves the plot along quite briskly.
Despite the broad strokes of the story, there is some nice shading by several of the actors. Johnston, in particular, portrays a mother who is fun-loving but savvy enough to know what her son needs to get ahead.
Still, she doesn't want anything to do with the upper-class woman who is helping him achieve those goals. Use her and get on with your life, this nonjudgmental mom seems to be saying. Practicality trumps all in the effort to succeed.
Source: Times Herald-Record
Also, if you go to Broadway Stars from Sept. 21, and scroll down to 'Scarcity', you'll find not only the audio slide show From Sketch to Stage - Walt Spangler narrates a look at the set he designed for the play "Scarcity", but also some more reviews, like from Curtain Up.
Interesting, that so far into the run of a play a new review is published:
Theater Review: 'Scarcity'
A Riveting Human Drama
By Judd Hollander
Special to The Epoch Times, Oct 06, 2007
Casting is so important in a work like this, and here it is excellent down the line (Kristen Johnson, Michael T. Weiss and Maggie Kiley are the standouts), as is Jackson Gay's direction, which keeps the action flowing smoothly and doesn't allow a single wasted moment or scene. Walt Spangler's sets expertly capture the "second hand" feel of the family home, and the costumes by Ilona Somogyi are also quite good.
"Scarcity" shows the need to know who and what you are before thinking of what you can be. Well-written, acted, and executed, this one is a triumph for all concerned.
For the full review see the
Source: Epoch Times
9-28-2007: My review of Scarcity
In early 2006, after returning from Boston and "Les Liaisons Dangereuses", I announced: "If Mr. Weiss ever returns to the stage no matter the play, and circumstances permit it, I'll be back as well."
So now, I made it to New York – I couldn’t stand the idea of Michael T. Weiss being back on stage without me witnessing it.
And since seeing a play only once doesn’t do it for me, I booked tickets for three performances on the weekend of September 14 – 16, 2007, evenings of Friday and Saturday, and the matinee on Sunday afternoon.
Previews of "Scarcity" began on August 29, and its world premiere took place on September 20 at the Linda Gross Theater. So I caught what was different from the first previews, but looked a lot like the final version. It took me two shows to warm up to it, but then I was caught.
And I had the good fortune to meet Michael after each of the shows.
Read my full review und report on the events in the Specials section.
4-29-2008: Michael is nominated for a Drama Desk Award
The nominees for "Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play " for the 53rd Annual Drama Desk Awards are:
John Cullum, The Conscientious Objector
Conleth Hill, The Seafarer
Francis Jue, Yellow Face
Arian Moayed, Masked
Jeff Perry, August: Osage County
Michael T. Weiss, Scarcity
The nominees were announced yesterday by Tony Award winners Bebe Neuwirth and Len Cariou at a breakfast reception at the Friars Club.
Full list of nominees.
The 53rd Annual Drama Desk Awards will be held Sunday, May 18, 2008, in the LaGuardia Concert Hall at Lincoln Center. The awards show will be webcast for the sixth year in a row by TheaterMania.com. It will also be broadcast live on satellite radio's XM – 28 On Broadway for the second consecutive year.
Drama Desk nominees will receive their official nomination certificates at a cocktail reception on Thursday, May 1, 4:00 to 7:00 PM at Arte Café, 106 West 73rd Street, between Broadway and Columbus Avenue.
Read more at Drama Desk.
5-6-2008: Michael receives his Drama Desk Award nomination
The Drama Desk nominees received their official nomination certificates at a cocktail reception on May 1, at the Arte Café in New York. Photos of Michael.
5-19-2008: Drama Desk Awards
Michael unfortunately didn't win yesterday, it was Conleth Hill for 'The Seafarer' instead.
For more information round the play and the performances go to the News Archive 2007.