Women’s Voices Abound in ‘Abundance’
“There is a bold, timeless, pulse in Abundance that is centered in the heart of a woman.”
Director and Intrepid Staged Reading Committee Member Shana Wride is unbridled in her admiration of playwright Beth Henley and this 1990 offering, which first debuted at the Manhattan Theatre Club to critical acclaim.
The New York Times has categorized it as a “Western epic,” although one that has never been seen before. Instead of the predominantly male histories that define America’s saga of westward expansion, this tale is told through the eyes of the women – specifically two mail-order brides.
“Let’s face it, most plays do not come from the female perspective,” says Shana. “[Beth Henley] has an amazing gift for creating female characters who are tough and fragile, hilarious and heartbreaking, fully loaded complicated beings.”
Centered in the high plains of Wyoming in the 1860s, the play explores the lives of two women who have come to the American West in search of new beginnings in marriages to husbands they have yet to meet. Their friendship provides the backdrop for an unromanticized exploration of the ideal of westward expansion.
“Beth captures the subtle humor beautifully, as well as the idea of selling this fantasy and blind hope for a better life in the West,” says Jacque Wilke, who will portray Macon, one of the brides. “The friendship between these two vastly different women and the bond that forms is one that only a woman could understand and voice so eloquently.”
Joining Jacque onstage will be Kelly Iversen as Bess, the other half of this play’s quarter-century friendship, as well as other San Diego notables Tom Hall, Jonathan Sachs and Sean Yael-Cox.
“I love Beth Henley’s characters because they seem so out there at first and then you realize they’re completely you – or your neighbor or your mom,” says Kelly. “And she doesn’t tell you who to root for. There’s no clear-cut hero or villain. She creates very human people in extreme circumstances and you as the audience get to decide what you think of them.”
In fact, readings rely heavily on the audience’s imagination, both to interpret the message of the play as well as to imagine the staging. For the cast and director, this can present both an opportunity as well as a challenge.
“Play readings are difficult things to pull off,” says Shana, who also directed Yasmina Reza’s Life(x)3 for Intrepid last year. “You have practically no rehearsal and you get no bells or whistles to tell the story – just the language.”
Thankfully, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Beth Henley is no stranger to captivating dialogue. Karen Bovard of the Hartford Courant notes in a recent review of the play during its run at Hartford Stage that Henley’s language is “snappy” and “crackles with personality.” Shana agrees.
“This is a story [audiences] have not heard before. It is a play that encourages you to think in wide, open spaces. It is also ridiculously funny without losing anytime delivering a very important message. Abundance lends itself beautifully to being read aloud.”
Abundance by Beth Henley, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, February 24. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase reading series subscriptions here.