Steinbeck chronicled the Great Depression’s misery in The Grapes of Wrath. The still-spreading wreckage of our contemporary economic crisis gives us Lower Debt. It looks as if Marx was right about how history repeats itself: This second time is a sadly unintentional farce. In the hard-hitting tradition of Lost and The Breakfast Club, Weinstein’s new play gathers an unlikely, colorful set of characters in a tent city: You have your cynical drug dealer, your idealistic taxi driver, your ambitious screenwriter. Only in the end do we learn the secret that has brought them together. I won’t give it away, partly because it seems so ludicrous that I can’t quite believe I got it right. Let’s just say Weinstein takes the term headhunter rather literally.
Much of the dialogue seems lifted from old cornball teleplays. What’s going on? “Belts are tightening. Maybe the hammer’s coming down.” What do these characters believe in? “I believe in flesh and blood and bone and here and now.” What can you buy from the dealer? “Anything to numb the pain.” The actors deserve credit for delivering all this with a straight face. Following their lovely work on Redtwist’s The Pillowman, Anders Jacobsen and Judy Radovsky design a splendidly decrepit environment. But the production represents a sadly wasted opportunity. LiveWire is surely right to think that theater should grapple with the harsh realities of today’s economics, something beyond the lofty platitudes offered by the likes of NPR’s Marketplace. Lower Debt’s cartoonish plot and die-cut characters, however, hardly qualify as an advance.