Wealth and poverty for laughs

Plutus’ by Aristophanes at Plays and Players

2 minute read
Comic anarchy with singing and dancing
Comic anarchy with singing and dancing

Inequality of wealth and poverty were glaringly present in the society of old Athens, our forefather democracy, and Aristophanes found comic fodder there. The youthful cast of Once More Theater embody high spirits, belly laughs, clever off-center meditations, and all-around comic anarchy in Aristophanes’s Plutus, the key conceit of which is that the god of wealth has been blinded and cannot see who deserves to get money and who doesn’t.

The relentless zaniness of the script, in a modern adaptation by Jimmy Guckin under the inspired direction of Peggy Mecham, is well acted by a small ensemble, who give us the point of view of the common people, or so it seems. The set consists only of a few marble blocks, trees, and white clouds, but the actors artfully conjure up a plausible marketplace setting.

Middle-class fishmonger Chremylus (Jimmy Guckin), a decent chap in rough-hewn threads, and his servant Cario (the brilliantly expressive Carlos A. Forbes), who endures his servile status while showing a lively intelligence, encounter a dirty blind vagrant. The latter reveals himself to be none other than Plutus (Abraham Bogle), the god of wealth, who has been blinded by an angry Zeus. Hoping to improve their incomes, the master and slave contrive to have the god, irascible but dignified in Bogle’s portrayal, healed by priests in a temple of Apollo. Aristophanes serves up what follows in his trademark free-for-all style, staged as a colorful cabaret with singing and dancing and philosophical aperçus.

How to solve the problem of poverty?

Poverty runs rampant in Aristophanes’s Athens, as it does in every country, according to the wise and sly one-woman chorus (a wonderful Kathy Bradford). An oligarchy of politicians and the dishonest rich dominate and run roughshod. A woman who is poverty personified (Barbarluz Orlanda) tells us that having to work builds character and leads to creativity, and redistributing wealth would not result in virtuous behavior. Money isn’t the problem, Aristophanes’s characters agree, human nature is.

When Plutus’s sight is restored, he redistributes wealth, which of course causes unforeseen [sic] problems. Zeus shows up to attempt to bring order back to the chaos that has ensued — unsuccessfully, as the play peters out without a clear conclusion. Evander Johnson plays Zeus as narcissistic and feckless, wearing a white wig and beard that reminded me of Bullwinkle J. Moose. That kind of silliness dissolves any chance that the satire become an earnest inquiry into its topic. Instead, it veers into wild burlesque and fantasy, showcasing the comic counterpart of Greek tragedies.

This Plutus was a well done, pleasant diversion — it was riotously funny, actually, and a welcome relief from the winter blues. Followers of Bernie Sanders, however, would be disappointed with its lack of any real solutions for reining in the one percent. And, of course, for many, economic insecurity is hardly a laughing matter.

What, When, Where

Plutus by Aristophanes, adapted by Jimmy Guckin, Peggy Mecham directed. A coproduction of Once More Theatre, the resident company of Community College of Philadelphia, and Plays and Players. February 4-20, 2015 at Plays and Players, 1714 Delancey Street, Philadelphia.

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