Although Theatre of the Absurd is often associated with mid-twentieth century European writers, How the Money Goes is a relatively new (2008) absurd comedy from American playwright Robert Cousins. While it receives a spirited production from a talented troupe from the University of Maryland’s Theatre Department, the work is ultimately a little too sprawling to provide a satisfying experience.
The story opens with the funeral of One-The Protagonist (Anna Lynch). After she is officially declared dead by Four-The Doctor (Thony Bienvenido Mena), her will is read. Most of her fortune is left to her former assistant, Five-The Antagonist (Elizabeth R. Mann), who insists upon keeping the money after The Protagonist suddenly awakes. Aided by Two-The Friend (Hectorlyne Wuor) she decides to seek her money back through legal action, which is complicated by her new amnesia. Meanwhile, Three-The Double Agent (Emery Hamami) flirts with both sides in the dispute.
To raise money for the court action, The Protagonist is advised by The Doctor to stage a play (within a play). Although that plan does not work well, it turns out that the judge may be susceptible to bribery with fresh fruit. Following the trial, a sporting competition is held to divide the spoils. At the end, characters debate where they are located, whether they might actually be dead, and whether their actions have meaning or are just a means of means of staying occupied.
This summary does not begin to unveil the complications of the play. How the Money Goes is a chaotic farce performed in a frenzied manner. While it has a several comical moments and makes fun of some theatrical conventions, the script is willing to jump around at will for any potentially funny jokes or offbeat wordplay without discipline. Other than The Protagonist, it is sometimes difficult to understand the characters and their motivations.
Director Ashley Duncan does an excellent job spinning these whirling tops around stage in amusing ways. She also encourages the fast-talking manner, which both accentuates the absurd humor and also apparently attempts to gloss over some of the extraneous material in the script. Occasionally the machine gun dialogue comes out a little too quickly to be processed effectively by the audience, making the plot and the characters even harder to follow.
The five actors give energetic and capable performances. Anna Lynch makes a sympathetic protagonist who earns a rooting interest in her fate. Thony Bienvenido Mena also effectively connects with the audience when serving in a mentor role to The Protagonist. The others are mostly limited to rapid-fire comedic action.
As How the Money Goes demonstrates, Robert Cousins is an intelligent and clever writer. Perhaps a little editing could make this work more focused and effective. While the play can be impressive in the moment, it tends to beat the audience into submission, earning less laughs and affection than it deserves.
How the Money Goes
Written by Robert Cousins
Directed by Ashley Duncan
Presented by Odd Act International Collective
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
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Did you see the show? What did you think?