By David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Theatre remains one of the most effective ways to look at the world. Recently, Theatre Reviews Limited critiqued Michael Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender” playing at the Belasco Theatre. The review stated, “In short, the effect of Michael Moore’s monologue is a significant contribution to the discussion about what Americans can and should do to in the current political upheaval since Donald Trump’s win.” One closing off-Broadway and one currently running on Broadway are two plays that also ask audiences to look at the current political and cultural situation in the United States. The new musical called “Money Talks” and the stage adaptation of “1984” have challenged audiences (sometimes too much in the case of the latter – see below) to look at the country they live in through different lenses.
“Money Talks: The Musical” recently closed its successful run at the Davenport Theatre. The 90-minute musical comedy presents a satirical look at America’s obsession with money and is loosely based on the 1897 play “La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler. The title refers to the main character Benjamin Franklin, the $100 bill, who is ‘passed’ among different people and who tries to convince them to change their obsession with money. Two-time Tony nominee Peter Kellogg (“Anna Karenina”) wrote the book and lyrics. The music is composed by famed composer David Friedman and Michael Chase Gosselin directs and choreographs the play.
The institutions that “Money Talks” satirically examines are part of a deep conversation that is going on in America right now. The 2008 financial crash left many American’s readjusting their view on money and how it is spent by those who claim spend it in the country’s best interests. One scene in the musical shows Ben at a poker tournament demonstrating America’s strong link to gambling. The poker scene is particularly interesting as the game has moved far beyond the casino walls and is now more prominent in the homes of gamers. For instance, innovative platform Slingo offers a realistic casino experience with virtual dealers that is available to play on a desktop or phone at the touch of a button, recreating a lifelike gaming environment similar to what players are accustomed to in a land-based casino. Like all the scenes in the musical, the poker tournament is clear in its message of how we are fascinated by the constant thrill of making money. The fact that the game can be played anywhere makes the scene even more important.
“1984” at the Hudson Theater is adapted from George Orwell’s seminal 1949 dystopian novel that depicts a future where the British government has put its citizens under constant surveillance (through a system famously called Big Brother). Orwell’s novel has become particularly applicable in recent years through the NSA revelations brought to light by former CIA employee and whistleblower Edward Snowden. The play, like the book, asks the question of how far we are willing to the let the government go to “protect us.”
This stage adaptation of Orwell’s novel continues to make a significant impact on New York critics and audiences. There have been reports that audience members have fainted, begged the actors to stop, and even started fights due to distressing scenes at the end of the play. When the directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan were asked about the visceral audience reaction they said, “We’re not trying to be willfully assaultive or exploitatively shock people, but there’s nothing here or in the disturbing novel that isn’t happening right now, somewhere around the word.” The directors argue that much worse is being reported everyday on the news. If you want to see a play with a bit more bite and satire, then either “The Terms of My Surrender” or “1984” will entertain you and make you question the country you live in.