Monday, January 21, 2008


Sadly, I am not writing about the PBS show, of which I have heard many good things. There is also a play of similar name. The author added an exclamation point to help us differentiate. I had assumed that it was inspired by Oliver James'studies on consumption and materialism and I was looking to update the dramatic offerings at our community theater. So, I ordered a copy to read...

Affluenza! is by James sherman. Apparently he has written other acclaimed works. At least, that is what the blurb led me to believe.

A hilarious new play from James Sherman, AFFLUENZA! borrows classic characters from Restoration Comedy like the cuckolded husband, the coquette, the wiley servant, and the fop to create a contemporary comedy of manners. When multi-millionaire, William Moore brings home his new girlfriend, his son and ex-wife are threatened by the potential new heir to the family fortune. Who gets what and who ends up with whom is revealed in this dazzling display of wit and word play.

"James Sherman has created a Moliere play for our times. A clever and delightful piece of theatre." Chicago Reader

"James Sherman's AFFLUENZA! is an impressive piece of work -- a witty balancing act that gets laughs from age-old human foibles as well as our present age of untrammeled corporate greed." The Kansas City Star

"Sherman's vital Americanese displays all of the lightness, gaiety and poetic skill of the French satirist's classic French." The Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

I'll admit, I probably ought to have done a bit more homework before ordering a perusal copy. But I was just surfing for recent plays that sounded interesting. Ah, well. Lesson learned.

To be blunt, this play is transparent, insipid, and banal. To be more blunt, I read it while dealing with a stomach bug and IT stank worse. The first thing that made me cringe was when I discovered that the entire play is written in rhymed couplets. Think bad Dr. Seuss impersonation. It is also peppered with references to pop culture and current events. References of this sort are not a bad thing in and of themselves. If they are used as a part of the story, they can be effective; even moving. Most of them here are offhand throwaways. Various politicos, right and left, are name dropped. But the reference is meant for a laugh and nothing more. And given that the laugh is supposed to come after 80 pages of bad poetry, I found it hard to muster. Don't take my word, though. Here is a sampling:
If Affluenza's a new word for you
Please listen 'cause I can give you a clue.
The days, the rich people are quite numerous.
Our poet thinks they're rather humorous.
They look for all the ways they can explore
How to get more. And more. And more. And more.
Except of course, for my Great Uncle Bill.
This is his house. Man, it is such a thrill.
Come in, dear ladies and kind gentlemen
Please notice - You can see Lake Michigan.

Gah! Enough. No more. That is the opening to the show. That's not even half of the Prologue. Then there is the fact that each act is broken up into 'scenes'. Of course, one scene picks up where the previous one ended. And there is no change in location. So, I fail to see the need for scenes aside from making the play feel longer. And it already feels plenty long to me! Then there are occasions where he rhymes a word with itself. And the ones he does this to are not for effect. Nor are the difficult words to rhyme. Here's an example:
How dare you think she's mercenary. Her?
Well, I'll show you. I'm gonna marry her!

Riveting. No, wait. Revolting. To make matters worse, the message is so heavy handed. Everyone in the play except the main character is a greedy materialist. There is no nuance. No subtlety. I hesitate to even call them caricatures, because caricatures usually bear some resemblance to reality.

Perhaps nobody has ever communicated with Mr. Sherman in a language he can understand. I'll revise my review for him.

You probably think that you're clever
Writing a rhyming play? Whatever.
The characters were two-dimensional.
What little humor seemed unintentional.
I get that problems stem from greed
But I knew that ere I saw your screed.
But the part of this lesson that really sucks
Is that learning it cost me eight bucks!