The Bernie Madoff case hovers over Ponzi, the new play by Elaine Romero getting its world premiere as the mainstage production in the New Works Festival at Kitchen Dog Theater. A mysterious investment genius named Jack guarantees high returns on the millions entrusted to him. It takes at least $6 mil to get into his exclusive "fund," so the stakes are high even if you have money to burn.
We never see Jack in the play, though characters talk about him constantly. He's in the next room at the fancy cocktail party that opens act one, where we meet a wary heiress named Catherine (played by Christina Vela) and a friendly, persuasive nouveau riche couple, Bryce (Max Hartman) and Allison (Diane Casey Box), trying to buy their way into high society.
It's a great hook to hang a play on. Bryce and Allison are charming but a little creepy. And there's the vulnerable Catherine, so afraid of losing her $22 million inheritance that she doesn't date, preferring the company of her cat. She makes video letters to her dead father and works as a volunteer for museum fundraisers. When Bryce gets all sexy on her, what do you think happens? Hello, hot sex; goodbye, moolah.
In the production directed by Chris Carlos, the performances are solid all around. The problem in the play is that the most interesting character, the mercurial "Jack," is kept offstage. (The same problem affected Uptown Players' recent production of Horton Foote's drama The Young Man from Atlanta). It's like the old Chekhov thing about introducing a gun in the first act. If it hasn't gone off by the third, your audience will be disappointed. So it is with Jack, a terrific character whose dastardly Ponzi scheme wrecks the lives of everyone who hands over their millions. Ponzi tries to ask big questions about what it means to have money and lose it, and to never have love and long for it. But the question we keep asking as we watch it is, "Where's Jack?"
Mondays-Wednesdays, Sundays. Starts: May 29. Continues through June 25, 2011