May 13 - June 14, 1992, the Salt Lake Acting Company presented Beth Henley’s ABUNDANCE. James Morrison directed.

James Morrison was talking basketball the other day -- no surprise, given the city he is visiting. But it isn’t the NBA that brings the Los Angeles resident to Utah. Morrison is an actor wearing the hat of director for this return to his hometown.

Roundball entered the conversation as an analogy. Morrison was disputing the oft-held claim that acting -- credible acting -- is difficult. Acting is simply telling a story, he said, but if a person gets onstage and starts thinking about other things, everything can go wrong.

"Acting is like shooting foul shots," he said. "If you step up to the free- throw line and keep your focus on the ball -- not on the rim -- the ball will go in. If you’re worrying about the points you have to make or the game you have to win, you’ll miss every time. Same in theater. You must stay in the moment to make it work."

The "story" in which Morrison is now involved was written by Beth Henley, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for CRIMES OF THE HEART, her first full-length play.

Abundence.jpg (89777 bytes)Like its predecessor, ABUNDANCE is a tender comedy concerning women’s lives. But instead of telling about disaster-prone Southern sisters as she did in CRIMES, this time Henley writes about two mail-order brides who meet in the Wyoming territory in the 1860s. The play follows their 25-year relationship.

Morrison notes, "Upon first hearing about ABUNDANCE, I thought it would be a women’s play. I have discovered that this work is about friendships, and how our identities are shaped by the people we encounter throughout our lives."

According to The New Yorker, "The interest in Henley’s play is lodged primarily in the way it uses the figure of women to illustrate how the opportunist becomes enslaved. Its beauty lies in what happens to the title. We begin by thinking that ‘abundance’ is plenty -- having enough of what you want or need. We discover that... for women (and by extension, anyone) ‘abundance’ is the possibility of romance."

At first the title, ABUNDANCE, seems like another example of Henley’s black humor which was so evident in CRIMES. The play opens onto Cory Dangerfield’s stunning set: vast and desolate, with expansive skies and slate-colored rocks resting at the base of barren hills. The coyotes are just beyond the horizon. The cabin interiors are sparse: a wood table, two chairs, and a breakfront -- the kind of home indigenous to the barren land of the 1860s.

The barren mood is enhanced by Catherine Owens’ lighting design, Michael Roth’s original music -- often played by a lone fiddle, and period costumes by Steve Rasmussen. One of the more joyful moments comes in an abbreviated hoedown danced by Macon and Bess and choreographed by Michele Massoney.

If there is abundance, it is an abundance of possibilities. Bess Johnson and Macon Hill, both mail-order brides, meet each other on their first day in the Territory, while waiting at the train station to meet the men they’ll marry.

Bess hopes love. Macon hopes for boundless adventure. That they each get what the other wished for, is just one of the many ironies of this play.

The beauty of the SLAC’s performance is two-fold: Beth Henley wrote a clever play and director James Morrison collected a great cast.

Britt Sady plays Bess. Sady, blond and sensual, is immensely satisfying as the innocent young bride. Bess is the kind of character actors’ relish in portraying because of her wide range of emotions. From young girl to mature woman, Bess is beaten, betrayed, adored and admired. Sady presents all of these traits with intelligence and honesty. She is so believable that you want to scream at her to leave her wretched life -- to encourage her to go it alone.

Frank Magner is Jack Flan, Bess’ husband. Flan has a heart as dry as the desert in a drought. Magner revels in the evilness of his character but manages to make Jack just strong enough, just charming enough to be attractive.

Riad Galayini is wonderful as Macon -- funny and wild. The waiflike Galayini, with dark hair, fierce eyes and porcelain skin, puts strength into Macon that has nothing to do with size. She takes long strides when she walks, arms hanging loosely at her sides, ready to throw a punch. She speaks with a drawl, but there is nothing slow about her determination. Galayini draws us to this complex character, a woman filled with passion that is suppressed for so long that when it does surface, she is destroyed. Galayini comes to SLAC from Los Angeles for this play.

As her husband, William Curtis, local actor Duane Stephens is a match for Galayini. If an actor can be said to give full-range to the part of a man with no imagination -- Stephens does so. He has a gift for understatement and timing.

"You’ll never change his nature," Macon tells Bess early on. About this she’s prophetic. And another irony is that everyone else does a lot of changing.

Asked what he would like the audience to know most about ABUNDANCE, Morrison said, "I’m trying to say what Beth Henley is saying, if we are lucky enough to meet that one true person, then the friendship will endure forever." Synopsized from reviews by Nancy Melich for The Salt Lake Tribune and Susan Lyman-Whitney for Deseret News.

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