THEATER REVIEW: Walking the Dog mines rich vein in ‘MONEY’

“MONEY”/ Solaris/ 360 Warren Street, Hudson

TTG (THIS THEATER GOER) IS SELFISH and a bit prone to fantasy. From the arrival, years ago, of Walking the dog’s Hamlet, through their Chekhov, Thornton Wilder, Dylan Thomas, Charles Dickens, and Sarah Ruhl, she has nourished a wish that this group would evolve into a kind of year-round Williamstown Theater Festival (minus the prices and the snobbery). They could be ours here in Columbia County, all the while drawing actors and devotees from everywhere.

The gifts of artistic director David Anderson and friends are certainly up to it, and I have assumed that lack of Money was the only impediment. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps Anderson always meant to teach, to offer a broader, more world-altering gift to civilization.

Missionary-David has always been there, but never quite so overtly as in this most recent experiment, “MONEY.”

The evening is a collection of segments, book-ended with a folk story about the disposition of a pot of gold. At the beginning, a curtain does not go up. Lights do not dim on the house and rise on the actors. As audience-folks enter the intensely lit room, Melania Levitsky is discovered interacting with her gold coins and voluminous cache of paper money. She is statuesque and beautiful in her cherry red gown, except when she deliberately crushes the impression, divesting the gown of additional bills and groveling on the floor to coddle and count the cash and enjoy some “MONEY” foreplay.

Rather than beginning, the performance oozes into existence.

The segments are often clever–like the bits of literature recited with the word “love” supplanted by the word “money.” As the players intend, the device shifts one’s perspective, firmly but gently. Some of the other segments are not so gentle. When Anderson suggests that we experiment with offering love along with each of our daily expenditures, and further asks us to give all the change in our pockets to a nearby person, the lesson fails. “I am uncomfortable with this,” said the woman next to me, handing back my change. The lesson strays too far from the expectation that a theater company would provide theater.

Even as it reeks of acting class, Levitsky’s gibberish segment succeeds as theater. Her delicious extroversion and switches of intention, set off brilliantly by Anderson’s understated interpretations, are the stuff of what we came to see. His question-answering guru is fun too.

Improvisational skills are on display in many of the segments, and the easy truthfulness of these actors is never absent. Anderson, Benedicta Bertau and Levitsky are pros, but one may wonder if their gifts are fully used here.

Is this theater? Or is it church, complete with importunate red envelopes begging to be filled with you-know-what and deposited in the collection plates? (Yes, there are actual collection plates.) God hovers backstage, deprived of an entrance and even specific mention. She is uneasy back there.

For all the clever devices Walking the dog has found to temper its moralizing, moralizing climbs through. TTG could not help but silently push back. Take this light off me! Let me luxuriate here in darkness watching wonderful actors open up all the humanity of an excellent play. And what about this audience participation? Are we at a mixer, a meet-up, a class, a wedding reception, Sunday school, story hour at the library?

Anderson’s heart-felt, often subtle oilings of human connection are admirable, but TTG is selfish and longs for WTD to do what they do best: direct and act the world’s most thrilling plays.

You may attend the experiment this coming weekend and reserve seats at 518-610-0909.

PS: Don’t miss the bios in the printed program. They are MONEY.





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