On The Money
Victory Theater Center 2013
The Victory Theater Center presents "On the Money", a play by Kos Kostmayer. This is a limited run production, opening Friday, January 24, 2014 and running through Sunday, March 2, 2014. Performances will run Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 4 pm.
Check out some early reviews:
A Triumphant On The Money Returns to the Victory
It’s so nice to encounter an old friend recreated now in even better circumstances. I hate to reveal my age, but I saw the first incarnation of Kos Kostmayer’s On the Money when he was a playwright in residence at the Victory some 35 years ago. Now, co-founding artistic director, Tom Ormany, has brought the play roaring back to life with a suite of actors who constitute a smooth ensemble of unique characters coming together to improve their lots in pursuit of --- what else? --- money.
The Black River Cafe, updated on the Victory stage by the original set designer, D. Martin Bookwalter, is a rustic imitation of a Western style restaurant and saloon, owned by crusty Candy (character actor Vincent Guastaferro), whose heart of gold is submerged by his efforts to keep two restaurants afloat.
His employees, as usual, gripe about their pay, each reveal specific travails that keep their incomes hovering barely above the poverty line. Jack, The bartender (Jonathan Kells Phillips, wants to be an actor; outspoken waitress Nancy, (Maria Tomas) has a kid to support; Benny (David Fraioli) has to support his gambling habit. The delicate balance is tipped when Benny loses money one too many times, calling the bookies down upon him and each character faces the dilemma of supporting his hair-brained scheme to pay his debtors back.
Engaging performances are not restricted to the core group, however; Tony Maggio makes a great bookie; Cara Manuele and Robert Dominick Jones as rowdy patrons are fine; and Jeff Kober as T.C. Hopper is an ominous cowboy who shows up out of the blue.
Kostmeyer’s 1989 play is still fresh today due to tight dramatic construction, boasting a climax that is well prepared but hardly expected. He is ably supported by several who returned for a reprise of their original roles: Bookwalter’s sets and lighting provide the ballast for resident artists Bonny Baldwin’s costumes as well as Rob Corn’s integrative sound design and, especially, Ormany’s tight, knowing direction. If you missed it the first time, you shouldn’t resist On the Money now.
On the Money
Written by Kos Kostmayer, with a great understanding of the human spirit, and the lengths people will go to survive … this is a totally captivating play. Having hosted this play’s West Coast Premiere here 30 years ago, and noting that the financial problems of good American folks haven’t changed much in 3 decades … the Victory Theatre folks decided to reproduce this gripping play once again. A past review of this very play in The L.A. Times stated … "An exceptionally powerful naturalistic play about the evils of money – or lack of money … Theater of the head and the heart."
Directed powerfully and poignantly by Tom Ormeny! A compelling cast of 10 fine actors bare their souls, in heartfelt performances that still ring true in today’s economic difficulties. The story unfolds at The Black River Café in New York in the 1980s. The likeable bartender Jack (an excellent Jonathan Kells Phillips), the stressed out waitress (a quirky Maria Tomas), and Benny the angry waiter (a cocky David Fraioli) work their tails off to make ends meet. Their wealthy and miserly boss is a tough guy to please, and couldn’t care less about their personal issues (a dynamic performance by Vincent Guastaferro). The trio of disgruntled staff eventually plot a dangerous and shady way to get what they need out of their self involved employer. In the midst of it all, a spaced out and whacky cowboy drifter saunters in a wanting a drink, but has no money, and returns later. Jeff Kober is captivating as this mysterious loner, and offers an unforgettably passionate scene toward the play’s end, as we learn more about his life issues. Tony Maggio is sleazy perfection as a heartless loan shark, here to collect money from the bartender. In smaller roles, rounding out the fine cast are Michael Filipowich, Cara Manuele, Robert Dominick Jones, and Luca Rodrigues. This is a very strong production that holds the audience under its gritty spell throughout! Setting the mood perfectly: The detailed bar and café set is gorgeous, designed by D Martyn Bookwalter, who also designed the lighting. Crisp sound design by Rob Corn, and costumes designed by Bonny Baldwin, round out the “tech” efforts perfectly. This is a totally enthralling play that has a lot to say … Do plan to see it!
Valley Scene Review
Arts Beat LA
Arts Beat LA
In Kos Kostmayer’s On the Money, directed by Tom Ormeny, three overworked and underpaid employees with pressing financial problems debate whether or not to steal from their boss whose sole concern is his own profit.
The first thing you notice about the scenario, which takes place in the 1980s, is that the indifferent employer has a face – a real human persona – unlike today, when the lack of concern for workers’ welfare seems to take place exclusively at the behest of cyclopean machines, with no flesh-and-blood person at the lever in view.
So it’s almost comforting to have this clash about money and morals played out in an intimate non-corporate setting: the lounge section of a bar and restaurant in New York City some 30 years ago. The people who work there are Benny the waiter (David Fraioli), who plays the horses and needs to pay back his debts or else, Nancy the waitress (Maria Tomas) a single mom raising her bullied daughter in a rough neighborhood, and Jack the bartender (Jonathan Kells Phillips), an actor with a wife and three kids who would love to move to California but hasn’t got the bucks. Like Benny, he’s in debt to a dangerous bookie Wallace (Tony Maggio) – not someone you want to mess with. Jack’s a straight-arrow guy who believes in playing by the rules, and it is the wearing-away of his resistance to breaking them that creates the compelling through-line of the drama. Reluctant to embrace Benny’s scheme to hire a burglar to steal the bar’s cash, he’s finally pushed to the edge after his boss Candy (Vincent Guastaferro) berates him for defending himself against Wallace; the final straw comes when Candy arbitrarily withholds money from Jack’s paycheck for funds gone missing, a discrepancy that is likely Candy’s own doing. While there’s some staginess to be weathered at the top, it dissolves once Guastaferro’s narcissistic businessman makes his entrance, his smartly-etched combination of salt-of-the-earth combativeness and cocky sense of entitlement furnishing the conflict’s incendiary spark. (So convincing is Guastaferro as this hard-assed Philistine that it’s something of a leap when the character pulls back to reveal the empathy he’s hitherto seemed incapable of demonstrating.)
As for Phillips’ barman, at first Jack comes off as a secondary player, a stable foil for his more agitated and colorful co-workers – particularly Benny, an inveterate gambler whose sizable debt to Wallace spurs his scheming plans. But as the noose around Jack tightens, and as, imperiled, he evolves toward the dramatic center, Phillips reveals the strength and nuance that he as an actor is capable of. It helps that Maggio’s hoodlum is effectively menacing, and that Jeff Kober’s turn as an oddball customer who keeps returning to the bar – each time a little loopier – plays unpredictably and persuasively. Some of the minor performances need tightening, and Tomas could dig deeper in her rendering of the beleaguered Nancy.
Kostmayer, whose plays and screenplays include I Love You to Death – a droll, offbeat comedy which featured Tracy Ullman as an obsessively jealous wife out to do in her philandering spouse, played by Kevin Kline – knows all about neuroses, fear and obsession, and instills them into his characters and their circumstances with humor and pathos. On the Money was first staged at the Victory Theatre Center in 1983, and this revival, under Ormeny’s direction, preserves the meaningful relevance that spurred its initial acclaim.