|April 28 - May 12, 1991, THE RUG
MERCHANTS OF CHAOS had a world premiere opening at the
Pasadena Playhouse in California. James Morrison played the part of Max Mottram in this
In his CUMULATIVE RECORD, the philosopher B.F. Skinner asks, "Are we to be controlled by accidents, by tyrants, or by ourselves in effective cultural design?" Ronald Ribman attempts to answer this question in his play.
As his title implies, Ribman finds our universe dictated by accidents. In the world of RUG MERCHANTS, security is illusory and chance is the ultimate arbiter of fate.
Although Ribman's message seems gloomy on the surface, his conclusion about life is similar to that reached by Sartre, Buddha and countless other non- theistic philosophers. Namely, that in accepting unpredictability in life we achieve liberation or, at least, a certain sense of peace.
Max Mottram, one of Ribman's rug merchants, for years fails to accept chance as the explanation for why 13 men died in a mining accident he feels he could have prevented -- and he is silently haunted by this thought.
Sheila and Victor Finkelberg and their partners Ann and Max Mottram are world travelers in spite of themselves. Vic and Max Mottram are the dreamers who concoct the cockamamie schemes for making a fast bundle; Sheila and Ann go along for the ride.
This modus vivendi has resulted in the luckless foursome losing a bundle quicker than they made it. Chasing the golden goose through Panama City and Montevideo, they end up finally at Cape Town. It is there, in desperation, that they torch their rug business for the insurance money. Except they bungle the job! Now on the lam on a crummy ship, the foursome are en route to Tasmania.
Once on board the tub, the complications only multiply. Victor and Max are always putting on a good face, and Ann will follow Max anywhere. But Sheila, a Bennington graduate who can't forget how far she has fallen, is forever dousing expectations with torrents of pessimism. Tasmania is not her idea of bliss -- not that she expects they'll ever get there anyway.
This foreshadows that life has yet more dirty tricks to play on the group. The ship encounters mechanical problems deep in the ocean, forcing a probable return to its point of origin -- where the authorities lie in wait. Stuck on this pale excuse for a ship, they begin to weigh on each other's nerves.
It is aboard this stalled ship that Max faces the gravest crisis of his life when he finally becomes aware that accidents are, after all, just accidents.
"It's important for people to live according to a certain morality," Ribman says, denying that acceptance of a random universe frees human beings from guilt or obligations. "But we can't hold ourselves responsible for everything that happens. We have to go on."
The gang of four finally resolves its mounting problems with a literal leap of faith. It's a dubious note of hope at the end, but hope is still hope. Synopsized from review by Sylvie Drake, Theatre Critic for Times and an interview of Ronald Ribman by Charles A. Hahn for Time Out
"James Morrison brings an interesting sharpness to the idea man of the group, desperately running from a memory of deadly failure." Frances Baum Nicholson, Theatre Critic for Time Out
"James Morrison wasn't initially my idea of Max. But in the first reading, I heard a very fine actor at work. I had been wrong about him." Ronald Ribman, playwright
"As Max, James Morrison is a sweet, handsome lug, not without a conscience." Sylvie Drake