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Serious Money / Monster

Plays by Caryl Churchill and Neal Bell receive uneven stagings in Potomac Theatre Project's repertory season. logo
David Barlow, Jeanne LaSala Taylor
and Alex Draper in Serious Money
(© Stan Barouh)
Caryl Churchill's Serious Money, which explores the cutthroat world of life on the trading floors and in the board rooms of London at the height of the go-go 1980s, and Neal Bell's Monster, an adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, may seem like an odd pairing for a repertory season. But, the two pieces, which Potomac Theatre Project is presenting at Atlantic Stage 2, share one commonality: they both examine men (and women) who are attempting to manipulate their worlds and the people around them.

It's an ambitious slate of two highly theatrical and exceptionally tricky plays. And while certain performances are to be savored in both offerings, neither production proves completely successful or satisfying.

A murder mystery of sort lies at the center of Churchill's play, which also contains elements of Brecht (each act ends with a confrontational song) and Restoration comedy (tongue-in-cheek rhyming couplets abound). In the middle of a orchestrating a particularly messy business scheme, wheeler dealer Jake Todd (Mat Nakitare), is found dead, and his sister Scilla (Tara Giordano), makes it her business to find out who might have killed him.

Along the way, she discovers the exorbitant payouts Jake had been receiving as he put investors with no money together with a man desperate for capital in a takeover deal he's planning, and in one of the show's choicest ironies, Scilla's interest in the truth behind her brother's death becomes secondary to her hunt for the money he had been pocketing.

Unfortunately, the company, directed by Cheryl Faraone, meets the challenges of this sprawling piece with uneven success.Perhaps most notable is Jeanne LaSala Taylor, who plays Jacinta Condor, a Peruvian businesswoman with ties to drug trafficking. Her delivery of a monologue that outlines Jacinta's cutthroat and self-obsessed worldview proves both riveting and intriguingly sexy.

Similarly, Alex Draper brings a galvanizing, and surprisingly nuanced, passion to his turn as an exec hell-bent on a takeover of another company, and Giordano's turn as Scilla, brims with a greedy drive that's beautifully tempered by a certain air of sweetness. David Barlow offers a deliciously smug turn as a viciously avaricious American.

Less convincing are Megan Bryne, who, though amusing as a pert British analyst, cannot sustain a southern drawl as she plays a razor sharp American arbitrageur, and Brent Langdon, who plays Jake and Scilla's father with no discernible distinction. Aubrey Dube brings an appropriate amount of oily hauteur to his portrayal of an importer from Ghana, but his work as an American toady is merely a crass caricature.

Joe Varca and Paula Langton
in Monster
(© Stan Barouh)
Audiences will also find a disparate array of performances in director Jim Petosa's staging of Bell's Monster, which charts the familiar tale of Victor Frankenstein's obsession with answering the question "Am I a god?"

The show's chief asset is Joe Varca's often sensitive turn as the scientist who finds himself angrily pursued by the being that he's created in an attempt to prove that death can overcome. There's also fine work from Christo Grabowski, who brings a debonair air to his performance as Victor's best friend, Clervall.

But while these performers' work often engages,John Zadreojeski's concurrently rugged and suave turn in the title role underwhelms, never proving frightening or pitiable, and Paula Langton brings a harshness to both her portrayal of Victor's addled mother and her turn as the Frankenstein family's housekeeper. Similarly, though Britian Seibert embraces the overt sexuality that is part of Bell's characterization of Victor's beloved cousin, her turn remains curiously bland.

For both productions, scenic designer Hallie Zieselman has created sparsely outfitted environments that prove remarkably flexible, particularly given lighting designer Mark Evancho's evocative use of color. Interestingly, though, audiences will find that its the impressive simplicity of both artists' work that puts the flaws in both productions into an ultimately unflattering focus.

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