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‘Abundance,’ A Play by Beth Henley, Opens Off-Broadway

October 31, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Since ″Crimes of the Heart″ opened in New York a decade ago, playwright Beth Henley has had a hard time coming up with another play as good as her Pulitzer Prize-winner.

The latest, ″Abundance,″ which arrived Tuesday at off-Broadway’s Manhattan Theater club, certainly isn’t. It is a sprawling, unfocused saga, as rambling and wide-open as the spaces it celebrates in the Wild West of the 1860s.

Like ″Crimes of the Heart,″ the play is a story of female friendship, but the similarities end there.

Henley tells the story of two mail-order brides, Bess and Macon, who arrive in the Wyoming Territory to find themselves engaged to two of the most umpromising men west of the Mississippi.

Both women make do with what they get and survive, more or less. Bess ends up with the brother of her intended after her fiance chokes to death on a piece of corn bread. Macon marries a grizzled, one-eyed widower whose farming fortunes rise and fall with the weather.

Bess is the timid one, Macon the free spirit, but in the end, the mousey woman has the more exciting life. Bess is captured by Indians, lives for five years as a squaw, and then finds fame and fortune on the lecture circuit recounting her adventures with ″savages.″ Macon, after her husband deserts her, finds a pathetic life working in a carnival show.

The play is a story of dreams deferred and dreams transferred from woman to woman, but it’s far from a poignant, affecting tale. There’s a nasty edge to the characters, a whining sameness about Bess and a greedy grasping that permeates Macon. They don’t make for characters you can root for over the 25- year span of the play.

The playwright has even more trouble with their husbands - Jack Flan, Bess’ man, seems psychotic and in the end a toady, kowtowing to her success. The farmer who marries Macon is more eccentric than interesting, an unappealing buffoon.

Director Ron Lagomarsino lets the play wander but that’s easy to do since the production spins on double turntables that keep revolving to show the inside and outside of two log cabins. The effect is headache-producing.

The performers exude quirkiness, particularly Amanda Plummer, who has made a career out of eccentric stage behavior. Tess Harper is strident as the down- on-her-luck Macon. The unlikable husbands are played by Lanny Flaherty and Michael Rooker.

Designer Adrianne Lobel has provided a stunning mountain panorama that can be glimpsed behind those ever-moving turntables. And there is some sweet, almost haunting, ragtime music by Michael Roth that sets the play up nicely for its sentimental ending.

But there’s not much emotion in the rest of the play. Only an occasional funny line or heartfelt sigh that recall Henley’s past triumph. ″Abundance″ is mighty bare dramatic fare.

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