Clubbed Thumb, one of the more enterprising rabble-rousers on the downtown theater scene, opens its 12th annual Summerworks festival of new plays with “Greedy,” which won a newly instituted gelt-bearing prize for scribe Karl Gajdusek. Production (and dough) were fairly earned for show’s nose-thumbing attitude toward greedy buyers and selfish sellers of dubious commodities — including a baby. But like a lot of alternative theater projects, the ideas lose their edge through lazy follow-through.
Gajdusek gets an energetic production from helmer Drew Barr, who works with Mimi Lien’s minimalist set of sliding screens and a few well-placed props to focus the eye on the crazy person driving this zany plot.
That would be Kiera (Meghan Love), a driven, manipulative personality type determined to bully her brother into going along with her criminal scheme to cheat a rich doctor out of a bundle of money. As played by the dynamic Love, Kiera is a fiercely angry young woman who blames her late father (whom she insists on calling a Nazi because he collected valuable Third Reich artifacts) for her belligerent manner and anti-social behavior.
Neither mild-mannered brother Louis (Jeff Biehl) nor the good doctor Paul (Dennis Fox) are any match for Kiera’s almost maniacal sense of entitlement to other people’s hopes, dreams, and gainful accomplishments — including their money. But there’s a certain nasty fun in watching these victims squirm, and both savvy thesps capitalize on that.
Louis’ mannish wife, Janet (Kelly McAndrew), and Paul’s Slavic war-bride, Tatiana (Lisa Velten Smith), come into the plot through another scam involving an abandoned baby. Playing in the same big-and-broad comic vein that characterizes the overall production style, femme thesps take it over the top without sacrificing requisite sympathy.
If festival auds drag out of Clubbed Thumb’s warehouse theater feeling less than refreshed from this experience, they can’t blame the company, which consistently manages to find the mordant humor in material like this. It’s scribe Gajdusek who seems unaware that dysfunctional criminals are not in themselves funny. Or tragic. Or capable of delivering a social message.
On a scene-by-scene basis, the playwright scores with those highly theatrical moments when narcissistic Kiera indulges her monumental sense of entitlement and vents her rage at being denied every selfish whim. Gajdusek shows wit as well on the elaborate contortions that her victims go through to escape or appease her. But there’s no structural basis for Kiera’s monstrous behavior, since her own explanation (that Daddy ignored her in favor of her brother), while stated with the conviction of a 2-year-old in a tantrum, is never dramatized.
On a more damaging level for a play entitled “Greedy,” Gajdusek fails to make his case that these cheats and would-be con artists are operating out of the kind of greed that characterizes a criminally materialistic society.
As events transpire, Louis does not act out of selfish interests at all; on the contrary, he gives in to his sister to shut her up and protect his marriage. The same exculpatory motivation applies to his wife, Janet.
Even Paul, who is thoroughly mesmerized by Kiera, gives in to the temptation of a dishonest buck partly out of guilt for his failures as a husband. And while both wives forget their ethics when it comes to that abandoned baby, the desire of a woman for a child (even one illegally obtained) hardly constitutes greed.
Maybe “Stupid” would have been a better title.