Theater Review: How Much Is Enough — A Gentle Conversation between Theater Company and Audience
The audience, seated at tables in semi-darkness, responded to TV talk-show style questions. At first, we raised our hands to vote on generic, consensus-building questions: Who believes in private, public, or charter schools? Who wants significant change in their lives? Would we do anything to create this change?
How Much Is Enough: Our Values in Question. Written by Kirk Lynn and created with & directed by Melanie Joseph. Presented by Arts Emerson: The World on Stage at The Jackie Liebergott Black Box (“The Jackie”) at the Paramount Center, Boston, MA, through September 25. Recommended for ages 13 and up.
By Erica H. Adams
Erica’s short preview of How Much Is Enough is on Arts Fuse Posterous.
The world premiere of How Much Is Enough: Our Values in Question offered a courageous, gently interactive theater event from the New York-based, Obie-prize-winning Foundry Theater. This performance piece asked a diverse audience to speak about fundamental concepts of value—quantitatively through relationships to money and, qualitatively, through what they hold dear.
The audience, seated at tables in semi-darkness, responded to TV-talk-show-style questions. At first, we raised our hands to vote on generic, consensus-building questions: Who believes in private, public, or charter schools? Who wants significant change in their lives? Would we do anything to create this change? In a sense, the performance approximates the human life-cycle, beginning with a mock graduation for those who want change.
The stage set was a constant flow of light and information. Streaming across tabletops, actor’s live-video images alternated with typed messages linked to each question. Above the audience, screens displayed Google’s answers to actors questions, including the government’s definition of U.S. poverty in 2011, which is $22,350 (total yearly income) for a family of four.
Trust was skillfully built through a succession of group interchanges. This led to volunteers who, guided by actors, played roles in sketches about how our notion of “value” changes across a lifetime, with one of the recurring themes being how we realize out dreams amid (or despite?) the disparities of power and economics.
Poignant moments were strung like pearls throughout the performance, culminating in the final two exchanges. Asked what kind of future she envisioned for herself, a high-school-aged girl struggled, despite the actor’s compassionate prodding, to articulate one, nor could she grasp what an “economy” was. When asked if you knew you had, perhaps, another 20 years to live, what year would you choose to relive, an elderly woman chose the past.
A larger sociopolitical arena, at once public and private, was purposefully created from the details drawn from singular lives. The performance ended with the actor’s final request of the audience to write questions for use in the next performance. Overall, questions produced answers that raised more questions, generating some illuminating ideas and promoting critical thinking.
The show realizes playwright Kirk Lynn’s aim “to attempt to listen to the dramatic moments of each other’s lives. When the play works, you get a peek into the lives of the most interesting people in the theater, the people who usually sit in the dark. I hope this play opens the space for us to consider the ways we make the world together—every single day.” It certainly gives an insight into how audience members and an engaged theater company can work together in compelling ways to try to make something new.