I attended my second theatrical presentation in less than a week when I went to the UND Burtness Theater Thursday evening to see “Scarcity.” Sue stayed at home because this type of intense drama doesn’t especially appeal to her. She says she doesn’t like to pay money to hear a bunch of people screaming obscenities, and when she puts it that way I have to agree with her. “Scarcity,” however, while containing a healthy share of sexual touching, screaming, obscene language, and disturbing story lines, also had enough interesting characters and thought provoking dialog to make it a worthwhile experience, in my opinion.
The production was held in the basement of the Burtness Theater, in a little place they call the “Lab.” This small, intimate setting allows the audience to feel like they are part of the setting, with the cast literally near enough to reach out and touch on many occasions. Two of the characters walk through the audience on a couple of occasions to go to the bedroom, which is represented by a curtained off corner of the “Lab,” just four seats from where I was sitting.
The setting for “Scarcity” is rural Massachusetts in 2007. The stage is the living room and kitchen of a home inhabited by the Lawrence family. The community in which the family lives seems divided into two factions: The wealthy people who live up on the hill, and the people struggling to make ends meet. The Lawrences obviously live very far from the hill.
The central character is Martha Lawrence, played by Michelle McCauley. Martha is the assistant manager at a store in the local mall, and is the family’s bread winner in addition to being the head of the household. She works very hard and reminds her family of it every chance she gets.
Herb Lawrence, played by Andrew Markiewicz, is Martha’s husband, and an unemployed alcoholic. His two passions in life are drinking and sex. His obsession with obtaining affection from his 12 year old daughter raises several disturbing questions about their relationship.
Billy Lawrence, the 16 year old son played by Nick McConnell, is the most interesting character in my opinion. Billy is a young man of extremely high intellect who could potentially reach great heights if he can only escape his dysfunctional family. He is attending a local private school, presumably on an academic scholarship, but is experiencing difficulties fitting in, perhaps due to his sorted pedigree. He is closest to his sister and loves her dearly.
Rachel Lawrence, played by Amy Driscoll, is the 12 year old daughter of Martha and Herb, and the sister of Billy. Rachel adores her brother Billy, and hopes to have the same educational opportunities available to her when she comes of age. She may well be more intelligent than her brother, but is obviously quite naive and lacks the “street smarts” that come with age. Rachel comes across as a source of amusement for both of her parents, and it’s only Billy who takes her seriously.
Ellen Roberts, played by Emily Elisabeth, is a rich young woman who’s Billy’s teacher. Besides recognizing Billy’s potential, she desires him sexually, and in her effort to seduce him, breaks every rule of teacher-pupil relationships. She continually maintains that her interest in Billy is to help him succeed, but her actions lead the audience to believe he’s merely a toy, made more attractive by his forbidden nature.
Louie the cop, played by Matthew Hegdahl, is a cousin of Martha who also happens to be in love with her. He continually rescues the family in their time of need by buying them steaks, paying the utility bills, and bringing Herb home drunk instead of throwing him in jail. He hopes that his good deeds will win him points with Martha, but instead the entire family views him with disdain.
Gloria, played by Daphne PanKratz, is Louie’s wife. She understands the triangle formed by her husband’s obsession with Martha, but continually looks the other way. She is an ideal enabler, allowing everything to continue, even if it’s not in her best interest.
I couldn’t decide on what the main point the playwright, Lucy Thurber, was trying to make. My first impression was that the dysfunctional Lawrence family was in this needy situation due to their inability to take responsibility for their lives. They couldn’t take care of themselves, and everyone around them conspired to assist them for their own selfish reasons, namely sexual desire.
I also considered the fine line between love and hate. Everyone in this family both loves and hates each other, especially Martha and Herb. One moment Martha is repulsed by her husband’s drunken behavior, and the next she is dragging him to the bedroom, where by their sounds, the audience is informed that she is quite satisfied.
I’ve come to believe, however, that the main theme is to demonstrate how difficult it is to be in need. Billy yells at Ellen for making a scene at the grocery store when they wouldn’t allow him to use food stamps to buy toilet paper. He’s obviously embarrassed by needing to rely on charity and doesn’t want everyone to know. Martha and Herb rely on Louie’s charity but deep down, they view Louie as weak for helping them out: They obviously wouldn’t return the favor if the roles were reversed.
Ultimately, Billy trades everything he holds dear, even his sister’s safety in the house with an abusive father, for a chance to escape the poverty present in his life. He accepts his teacher’s sexual advances for a chance to get away from his family, even though it means leaving Rachel behind. Billy is tired of being in need and finds a way out, even if it means leaving his loved ones behind in their squalor. He’s being selfish, but that’s what this story is all about: Putting your wants and desires above everyone else’s. The production at UND ends this evening, but I would recommend this play to anyone who may enjoy a good, intense, family drama.