I recently had the pleasure of seeing the play, “On The Money” at the Victory Theatre Center in Burbank.
“On The Money” is a play that will leave the audience feeling emotionally altered, like they have just witnessed something that was painfully honest and eerily prescient.
In simplicity, the play is purely about money. It is a play that depicts what happens to good people when they are pushed to the extreme and hit a breaking point. It’s tragic, it’s honest, it’s humorous and it’s dramatic.
The sentiment echoes our current economic climate. So many decisions regarding life are based on money. It’s our greatest vice, but it’s almost impossible to live without. “On The Money” serves as a poignant reminder that good and honest people sometimes feel compelled to make difficult decisions regarding money in order to protect their family.
The play focuses on the characters Benny, Jake and Nancy. They work in a busy bar/restaurant and must report to their boss, Candy, the wealthy but frugal owner of The Black River Cafe. Candy quickly becomes a clear representation of white-collar America, and more importantly, the wealthy individuals who get away with tax evasion and fraud, while Benny, Jake and Nancy represent the American majority, the backbone of America. These hardworking individuals seem to be in a place of constant struggle and are doing what they can to support their families.
The play, written by Kos Kostmayer and directed by Tom Ormeny, is remarkably foreboding and beautifully impactful. Kosmayer tells a tale with such important underlying messages about money and America, that regardless of partisan politics, it is impossible not to understand the characters’ plight, because these characters represent ourselves. Kostmayer weaves drama and comedy into one very realistic piece of work. His characters speak like we would speak, and feel like we would feel. The story is authentic, and perhaps, it is so impactful because it could happen to any one of us.
Nancy (Maria Tomas) is a heartbreaking character. She is a courageous and fierce mother, a woman who will truly do anything for her child. However, her plight becomes more complicated when she agrees to go to extraordinary lengths to make money to keep her child safe. Her determination, while a beautiful attribute, is also her biggest flaw.
Jack (Jonathan Kells Phillips) radiates goodness. He is a loving husband and father who, while stressed about not paying back his loans on time, is persistent in his belief in making an honest living, even if it means making a less than desirable wage. His breaking point is what energizes the entire story.
Benny (David Fraioli) is problematic from the start. A kind and good man at heart, he is tired of being pushed down by the wealthy and is ready to do something about it. He is extremely critical of capitalism and trickle-down economics, and feels the system is shameful. He doesn’t want to live his life on the edge of financial ruin, and feels he is entitled to a better living. His conviction is the most powerful, because he is the most sure of his actions.
Candy (Vinny Guastaferro) has goodness within him, but it is hidden by his greed. His business is his everything, and he will do whatever it takes to be successful and make money.
Candy’s abrasiveness and unwillingness to pay his employees a higher wage is what ultimately pushes his employees to the edge, causing them to make a decision that could change their lives.
“On The Money” features only 10 characters, and each and every one is important to the story. From the main leads, to Wallace the loan shark, to the chilling Johnny B, to the humorous foreigner and drunk bar patrons who add some comedic relief while building tension, it is clear that everyone has a place.
However, a play is only as strong as its acting, and “On The Money” features superbly talented actors who truly embody their characters. Never have I seen such a strong cast, where every single actor, and character for that matter, really plays an important part in the narrative. The cast portrays their characters with such nuanced acting that their emotions are almost palpable.
Perhaps the most notable of the cast is Jeff Kober, who plays the loony but sagacious T.C. Hopper. Kober commands the stage as soon as he sets foot in the bar. At first, it seems as if he is talking in circles, and at first impression, it seems he has a screw loose; but when you listen closely, it becomes clear that T.C. Hopper is perhaps the wisest person in the room.
The Victory Theatre Center has done a remarkable job with this production. The set is beautiful, the staging is realistic, the script is meaningful and the acting is impactful. But most of all, it is clear the founders and artistic co-directors of The Victory Theatre Center, Maria Gobetti and Tom Ormeny, give all of themselves to the theatre and to its productions. They are passionate about the project and warm and welcoming to the theatre’s patrons, bringing the love of art and storytelling to our community.