[almo$t equal to]: fun and confusing

Pillsbuty House Theatre, through October 22

Randy Reyes and Sun Mee Chomet in [almo$t equal to]. Photo by George Byron Griffiths.

My computer is unable to make the double squiggly line mathematical symbol that goes in front of this play’s title. ~, only two, one atop the other. Also, I’m unsure about the dollar sign. But the program has one, so I’ll put it in: [almo$t equal to] (Pillsbury House Theatre, through Oct 22). By the accomplished Swedish dramatist Jonas Hassen Kemiri. Directed by the accomplished Noël Raymond (one of Pillsbury’s co-artistic directors).

So what, I hear you asking, does the title mean?

Well, gee. I wish I could authoritatively tell you, but the title is as giddy, ballsy, challenging (and as confusing) as the play itself. Set in a large, apparently prosperous city – European? American? – Kemiri’s lively [almo$t equal to] focuses on a series of characters who seem obsessed with money, struggling to make it on schlock jobs (at a mini-mart), on work as an obscure adjunct professor of Economics, on earnings as a not particularly honest panhandler, a minor inheritance, etc. It’s not money they want – their lives are reasonably comfortable (even the homeless man has a guitar); they’re ambitious for the power that money brings. This makes these characters simultaneously despicable and likable: we dislike them even as we identify.

The play depends heavily on narration (“Then I went here…” “Then I did this…”) But just as this becomes tiresome, [almo$t equal to] provides us with engaging set pieces, e.g., an amazing wedding, complete with financial/sexual jargon, ending with “and then we’ll make little consumers”). There is the wonderful inheritance phone call, the hospital scene, the Economics professor’s sudden falls.

[almo$t equal to] features five of the twin cities’ finest: the ever-elfin Randy Reyes; the go-getter charming Jay Owen Eisenberg; Paul de Cordova (as the homeless man) and his the lumbering charisma; the magnetic Tracey Maloney; and the compelling Sun Mee Chomet. Ms. C’s portrait of an agèd/ageless hospital denizen amazes. The cast attacks this difficult material with buoyant passion and energy, making [almo$t equal to] worthwhile and then some. The cast, along with, undoubtedly, Ms. Raymond, had fun and their zest is infectious.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His Anna May Wong bioplay, How The Ghost Of You Clings, will be presented by the Playwrights Center as part of the 2018 Ruth Easton Festival. Please visit John’s informational website.

 

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