As the audience files in for the world premiere of Janece Shaffer’s “Broke,” now playing at the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage through October 23, we’re treated to Jack Magaw’s opulent set design of the home of an obviously wealthy family. But there’s background music playing, and it’s “Cabaret’s” catchy little tune “Money” (“Money makes the world go around”), sung as the Weimar Republic crashes into the Third Reich. You already sense that trouble is brewing, especially when you’re about to see a play called “Broke.”
For the next two hours and 45 minutes (including intermission) we are treated to the near dissolution of the Eliasons, an Atlanta family consisting of Liz (Tess Malis Kincaid), a high-powered marketing executive and chief breadwinner, her husband Jonathan (James M. Leaming), who owns a small shoe store, and their daughter Missie (Galen Crawley), a student at NYU, quite accustomed to a silver spoon existence.
One day Liz comes home with the news that she’s been let go from her $350,000 a year job. Jonathan, who perpetually looks at life through rose-colored glasses, is not too concerned; he suggests that now Liz can take some well-earned time off, travel, get another position if she wishes—no big deal. And with the world-class efficiency that has propelled her to the top, Liz launches into a job search she’s sure won’t take long.
But it becomes a very big deal when Liz learns that her company has crashed and that all her stocks and savings are gone, and that next big job is not materializing. Jonathan, though a charming and devoted husband, is as helpless as a turtle on its back when it comes to business savvy. At one point he cheerfully decides he’ll go to medical school and become a doctor, even though they’re both 52-years-old. And just what will they live on in the meantime, Liz asks, even if they had the money for him to pursue such a goal?
On top of all this Evalyn (Elisabeth Omilami), a maddeningly persistent volunteer worker, has started hitting Liz up for financial aid for her summer camp for needy children; then she takes a fall in their home and Jonathan invites her to recuperate there, where she begins dispensing unsolicited (but quite sensible) advice on living in adversity.
So the Eliasons, a “name brand for everything” family, find themselves selling almost all they have to make ends meet. Eventually, they are left with one another, and they find they must renegotiate their relationships. This is often neither easy nor pretty.
Neither is watching this play, which I hope you’ve perceived is not a comedy, though there are extremely funny moments. But (surprise) we’re living in difficult economic times; in fact we’re in the midst of “major national and global realignment,” as the program indicates. Depending on your mental, emotional, and financial state, “Broke” could be downright depressing.
We are rescued by some bravura acting, especially by the radiant Tess Malis Kincaid. Her fellow actors are also superb: Mr. Leaming, Ms. Omilami, and Ms. Crawley offer nary a false moment. They are directed by Jason Loewith. Mr. Leaming and Ms. Crawley are making their Alliance debuts.
Ms. Shaffer, an Atlantan, has written a complex, powerful work. If it’s just a tad long, that’s a small price to pay for an evening of powerhouse drama. See it if you dare, as they used to say in the movies.
For more about the show and to buy tickets, visit www.alliancetheatre.org.?