Greed Isn't What It Used to Be

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain for KCRW.

So you get the email. You know, that email. Maybe it's from someone in Nigeria with a pile of money or maybe you've won the Irish Sweepstakes. You go to hit delete but then . . . hey, what if it's true? Who couldn't use a pile of free money?

That's the setup for Karl Gadjusek's dark-comedy, Greedy, currently being produced in Hollywood by the Red Dog Squadron.

greedy.jpgGreedy follows the life of an on-line scam from the first email to it's ultimate unraveling. We meet a brother and sister who are down on their luck, have something murky in their past and decide to try their hand at a little larceny. He's more of a thinker than a doer. His big idea is a fan gizmo to deal with smelly litter boxes. It's the sister who's the brains behind the swindle. A clever manipulator, she sees things less in terms of right and wrong than "hey, doesn't the world owe us all a little something?" Trouble is her brother's married to a butch female security guard, the one wearing the literal and metaphoric pants in the relationship. There's no moral relativity with her -- just good and evil -- and she's good...or is she?

Then we meet the "marks," a seemingly well-to-do doctor and his sexy Russian second wife. He just wants to be liked. She wants nothing more than to have a child. She's pumping her breasts and she's not even pregnant. For reason's that aren't entirely clear, at least at first, they sure could use a little extra cash.

With any scam, the key is getting people to believe. Like in the theater, they've got to suspend their disbelief and go along for the ride. They have to be seduced by the unknown, and in Greedy, playwright Karl Gadjusek does a surprisingly good job of keeping the unknown interesting.

The promise of the play and its title is a window into what drives us. What is the root of greed?

Instead, the play's essentially a two hour mystery, though it's less whodunnit and more "what's going to happen next?." The motor of the narrative is the scam itself, and that's exciting . . . to a point. But despite a really wonderful ensemble of actors and crisp direction, those details become less satisfying the more we learn. Rather than discovering what makes these people really tick . . . well, they just become plot points. And like the scam itself, the ending doesn't add up.

Which was a problem when the play debuted in 2007. And then came Bernie Madoff's billion-dollar Ponzi scheme and an even a bigger financial scam: the collapse of the world's financial markets. These days, a $100,000 e-mail scam seems almost maybe it's a little shortcut dreamed up by a couple of folks just trying to get by. Maybe that's the most telling thing about what's changed in the last few years. Greed isn't what it used to be.

Greedy plays at the El Centro Theatre in Hollywood through January 29.

For info on the show text the word "curtain" to 69866.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain for KCRW.

Banner image: Maggie Lawson and Brad Raider in Greedy. Photo: Kurt Boetcher