If you’ve never seen a play, Beyond the Owing by Malachy Walsh is the perfect introduction to theater. Strong characters deal with universal emotional conflicts in a very current context—the economic crisis and crushing debts.
Out of college and planning to marry, Liz, a waitress and aspiring actress, and Sutton, a carpenter who wants to write, face tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. When the couple visit Liz’s mother Ruth to finish planning their wedding, a troubling secret is unexpectedly revealed, testing all these relationships. One theme of this play is being a young adult “going home” and seeing the distance (and disconnects) between where we’re from and where we want to go in life. The debts owed here are not only financial, but emotional—and not easily resolved.
Genevieve Bennett is a self-described “independent, self-producing theater director” responsible for last year’s Twin Cities Chekhov Festival; all the actors except one worked with Bennett in that endeavor. Bennett met playwright Walsh in graduate school five years ago, read an early draft of Beyond the Owing three years ago and, with actors, she collaborated on the script, acting “as more of a dramaturge than a director.”
|beyond the owing, presented through july 26 at the red eye theatre, 15 w. 14th st., minneapolis. for tickets ($10-$15) and information, see beyondtheowing.com. hear an interview with genevieve bennett on kfai’s art matters (july 9 episode), archived at kfai.org.|
Bennett, a Columbia University graduate, told KFAI that she identified with the couple in the play. ”They’re in an artistic field, so they’re not going to make big bucks right out of college—maybe not ever. This was a self-reflective play for me and the actors. It makes you reflect on ‘was it selfish or right to go for my dreams?’ Of course, it’s more interesting to ask questions than to make a statement. This play asks a lot of questions.”
“Beyond the Owing” features an ensemble of creative talents in synchrony: Bennett, the actors, and a near-perfect script. I found myself thinking of a young Arthur Miller or Lorraine Hansberry: big issues are explored within everyday lives we can relate to.
Sasha Andreev plays Sutton as a passionate lover and practical problem-solver, who as the outsider seems to be the only solid ground in the midst of this spinning family drama of three women. He has a way to solve the money crunch he and Liz are in—but how ethical is he? Andreev communicates charisma with a smoldering question: when confronted with a huge challenge, does he have character? Will he stick it out or split? Andreev subtly implies an ambivalence to keep you guessing until the end.
As played by Sara Richardson, Liz is an emotional pinball. Madly in love with Sutton, but facing unfinished business with her mother and reuniting with her best friend Trish, Richardson masterfully shows a complex range of emotions: playful, angrily defensive, stunned devastation. Veteran actress (and member of Theater Unbound) Delta Rae Giordano plays the mother, Ruth, as an emotional vortex. She’s vague, lost and dependent one moment, petty and vindictive the next. Your sympathies ricochet back and forth between Liz and Ruth, because neither one is painted as an unambiguous villain. Nicole Devereaux plays Trish, left behind after high school, simmering with contradictions. Trish’s past admiration of Liz vies with her present envy, and she may have become a substitute daughter to Ruth. Certainly, the different paths Trish and Liz have taken add another source of conflict to the mix. Mario (Leif Jurgensen), a wedding planner, is an almost comic fringe character who adds another twist that will ultimately lead to revealing the big secret that cracks these characters wide open.
Beyond the Owing takes place in Ruth’s house with a marvelous “soundscape” created by Elliot Durko Lynch, a Sage-Award-nominated sound artist, part of the recent podcast series RadioBrain. Without the multimedia gimmickry that too many plays today resort to, Lynch is ingenious in his use of usually unremarkable sounds to create an increasingly tense atmosphere.
“At first I thought this was a play about being in debt,” said Bennett. “Then, I realized it’s about attempting to reconcile what we dreamed our lives would be with what our lives have actually become. The chasm between those things only grows wider with financial stress. Huge tragedies are going on in the tanking economy. But there are everyday tragedies [involving the gap between] what people dreamed their life would be and what it is—often due to financial obstacles.”
Beyond the Owing is an emotionally powerful mirror to many of our modern dilemmas. In our money-mad culture, this play ponders the prices we pay in our most intimate relationships and the costs that can’t be calculated in a credit report. You owe it to yourself not to miss this instant contemporary classic.
Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist, winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She hosts Catalyst: Politics & Culture on KFAI. Hear a conversation with Dee Mosbacher archived on the Catalyst page at kfai.org.
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