by Matt Herzfeld; Directed by Brad Raimondo
Produced by The Dreamscape Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.26.16
IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street #3B
by Helen Herbert on 3.18.16
Greg Carere in The Improbable Fall, Rise & Fall of John Law. Photo by Sergio Pasquariello.
BOTTOM LINE: A seemingly tall, but historically true, tale about the man who put paper money on the map and the trouble he made along the way.
In today’s world it’s hard to imagine a time without paper money. Playwright Matt Herzfeld takes us back to 18th century London where we meet John Law (Greg Carere), the not-so-reputable historical figure who conned the world into trading in paper instead of gold. Law, a notorious gambler in need of money to pay off a debt, visits his mother Jean (Sara Thigpen) to ask for a loan. Jean Law is weary of her son’s foolhardy ways, but soon relents and gives him five hundred pounds for his predicament, with a warning that this will be the last time she rescues him from debtor’s prison. Law gathers his bounty and immediately heads to an illegal card house to count cards and calculate odds. When pressured by the table to make a bet, Law can’t resist and wagers all of his money on a risky and unheard-of bet. Sure enough, when the cards are turned, the card house’s Proprietor (Aurea Tomeski) is exposed for stacking the deck and the card club is shut down for illegal gambling—leaving Law penniless once again.
Now unable to pay his rent to his nosey landlady, Mrs. Bumcrick (Mackenzie Knapp), Law hides out with a buxom young neighbor, Miss Wilson (Rosie Sowa). As luck would have it, Miss Wilson is filthy rich and has a wild lust for excitement. Using his handsome charm, Law convinces Miss Wilson to let him gamble with her money. However, when Miss Wilson’s brother shows up to avenge her honor, a duel erupts and it seems the odds are never in Law’s favor for long.
Carere is enjoyable in his portrayal of John Law, switching from an earnest chap to a manipulative cad in quick capacity. Rounding out the cast are Fernando Gonzalez, Daryl Lathon, and Stephen James Anthony. Anthony is particularly comical as the hard-of-hearing Judge Salathiel Lovell, an elderly justice with a heavy hand for hangings. Across the board, the ensemble of actors each play multiple characters and share standout moments of highly amusing characterizations.
Brad Raimondo, Producing Artistic Director for The Dreamscape Theatre, is at the helm of this bawdy merry-go-round production of ever changing characters, costumes, and continents. Caitlin Cisek’s costumes are vibrant and textured, adding definition and comedy to the brisk changeovers of the tale. Similarly, the dynamic scenic and lighting design by Joshua Rose successfully transforms the small playing space into anything from the King’s court to a low gaming house in London.
Many of the arguments and theories Law promotes are eerily relevant to our current national debate about income inequality. Yet while the theme of leveling out wealth is highly important to the journey, Law’s epiphany to create paper currency comes very late in the production, and regrettably at a moment when the action begins to drag a bit.
At the play’s end, Herzfeld choses to leave us on a high note in Law’s life—perhaps as a cliffhanger for the potential “Part 2.” However, as we’ve become well-acquainted with Law’s knack for self aggrandizement and reckless behavior, a subsequent “fall” seems inevitable for our anti-hero. Overall, The Improbable Fall, Rise & Fall of John Law (part 1) is fun ride that exposes the questionable birth of many of our modern financial dilemmas.
(The Improbable Fall, Rise & Fall of John Law (part 1) plays at the IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street #3B through March 26, 2016. The show runs 2 hours 40 minutes, including one intermission. Remaining performances are Mondays & Wednesdays at 7:30; Thursdays through Saturdays at 8; and Sundays at 5. Tickets are $18. Tickets are available at irttheater.org or call Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006. For more information visit dreamscapetheatre.org.)
The Improbable Fall, Rise & Fall of John Law (part 1) is written by Matt Herzfeld. It is directed by Brad Raimondo. It is produced by The Dreamscape Theatre. Set & Lighting Design is by Joshua Rose. Costume Design is by Caitlin Cisek. Original Music & Sound Design is by Mark Van Hare. Fight Choreography is by Michael L. Eisenstein. Production Manager is Morgan Zipf-Meister. Production Stage Manager is Emily Roth. Assistant Stage Manager is Oriana Lineweaver. Assistant Director & Company Manager is Maya Evans. Graphic Design by Jessica Herzfeld.
The cast is Stephen James Anthony, Greg Carere, Fernando Gonzalez, Mackenzie Knapp, Daryl Lathon, Rosie Sowa, Sara Thigpen, and Aurea Tomeski.