In recent years, Edward Bulwer-Lytton has become well-known in connection with the newly named Bulwer-Lytton Prize, presented each year to the entrant who has written the worst opening line for a novel. The Victorian novelist and playwright received this dubious honor for beginning his novel Paul Clifford with the familiar refrain "It was a dark and stormy night." The competition is mainly American, so perhaps the Storm Theatre Company chose an inopportune time to premiere Bulwer-Lytton's Money in the United States. In any event, the production does little to improve the British playwright's reputation.
Money is a classic farce poking fun at the prevailing force of wealth in all levels of Victorian society. It opens with a collection of money-hungry relatives at the reading of the will of an eccentric, but very wealthy, uncle. Of course, the one cousin who no one imagined would inherit, and who we all knew would receive everything from the moment he walked on stage, inherits the entire fortune. The rest of the play follows this stereotypical cast of Victorians as true love interferes with arranged marriages, tricks to test devotion backfire, and everyone keeps track of who has the cash.
Money strives to be a social commentary, but Bulwer-Lytton's script has several flaws that prevent it from saying much. The basic plot is stunningly unoriginal. Since his characters go through exactly the same process as the ones in every Dickens novel, one has a hard time drawing any new conclusions from this version. Bulwer-Lytton tries to alleviate the problem by stuffing the script with sermons. However, what the characters say doesn't match what they do, so the script looses some of its validity. Moreover, in the end, Bulwer-Lytton champions the very ideas that he had seemed to be protesting.
The play might be saved by humor, but Money's stings are lost on us. The Storm Theatre Company was founded three years ago on artistic director Peter Dobbins' goal of reviving worthy lost plays and turning away from experimentation that highlighted the director's creativity at the expense of the playwright's. Money is a difficult choice to revive because it is so rooted in Victorian England that it has little relevance today.
The cast members were amateur and awkward. They made several irritating errors, like stumbling over lines, calling characters by the wrong name, and laughing at jokes that depended on keeping a straight face. They also lacked basic chemistry. They did not seem to have connected with the hearts of its characters, so the relationships between them are strained. The exception to this rule is Suzanna Geraghty as the good-natured Lady Franklin. Her energetic sparkle lights up the stage and sometimes warms up the actors she works with, but her enthusiasm is not enough to carry the play.
The Storm Theatre Company should be commended for its efforts to honor the classics and the traditional forms of theater. However, perhaps it should find some way of commemorating Bulwer-Lytton and his plays other than trying to perform them.
Money opened Oct. 6 at the Studio Theatre (145 W. 46th St. btw. 6th and 7th Avenues) and runs through Oct. 28. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17 for Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinee, and $19 for Friday and Saturday evenings. Call Ticketweb at 1-800-965-4827 or go to www.ticketweb.com.