Theater Review: ‘Abundance’

A story of two mail-order brides

NEW YORK—Although Beth Henley’s play “Abundance” deals with four people, two women and two men, against the backdrop of the American West starting in the late 1860s, the play most tellingly details the emotional lives and experiences of the two women: Bess Johnson (Tracy Middendorf) and Macon Hill (Kelly McAndrew).

The women meet for the first time in Wyoming Territory as they await the arrival of their husbands-to-be. Bess, a shy, gentle soul, and Macon, a passionate, earthy type, are, courageously, mail-order brides and haven’t a clue as to what their prospective grooms will be like.

When Jack Flan (Todd Lawson) arrives for Bess, he informs her that her intended groom, Jack’s brother, had recently died. But, not to worry for he, Jack, will marry her. Unhappily for Bess, Jack seems a rather crude type, not at all like his deceased brother, who had written three poetic, tender letters to his intended.

(L—R) Bess Flan (Tracy Middendorf), Will Curtis (Ted Koch), Macon Curtis (Kelly McAndrew) and Jack Flan (Todd Lawson), are the mail-order brides with their mismatched husbands.  (Marielle Solan Photograph)
(L—R) Bess Flan (Tracy Middendorf), Will Curtis (Ted Koch), Macon Curtis (Kelly McAndrew) and Jack Flan (Todd Lawson), are the mail-order brides with their mismatched husbands.
(Marielle Solan Photograph)

As for Macon’s intended, he is Will Curtis (Ted Koch), whose left eye is covered with a black patch. He lost the eye in a farm accident. However, even with two good eyes, Macon would have found him “physically repulsive.”

The women, who have bonded deeply, can only make the best of their fates. It’s too difficult to pull up stakes and head east now; besides, the adventuresome Macon, particularly, wants to explore the West and find “the elephant,” as she puts it.

After each couple settles into life in two cabins nearby, life is smooth at first. But Jack, thoroughly displeased with the withdrawn and unappealing Bess, turns his attentions to the vivid Macon. One night, Jack burns down his and Bess’s cabin, and the pair move in with Macon and Will.

Tensions mount, until, one night, Bess goes missing. It’s feared that she’s been taken by Indians and murdered. Now it’s clear that Macon and Jack have become a couple.

Bess Johnson (Tracy Middendorf) after her capture and rescue from Native American Indians. (Marielle Solan Photograph)
Bess Johnson (Tracy Middendorf) after her capture and rescue from Native American Indians. (Marielle Solan Photograph)

Years later, Bess is found by the U.S. Army and returned to the household, having presumably suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of the Indians. She is changed physically, now sporting a tattoo on her chin. Emotionally, she has become remote and is unwilling to communicate.

But a remarkable thing takes place. Bess is sought out by professor Elmore Crome (Jeff Talbott), who, having heard of Bess’s experiences, wants to co-write a book with her and take her on a national lecture tour.

Bess, surprisingly rises to the occasion and soon the tables are turned for the foursome.

Playwright Beth Henley has woven a marvelous tapestry of fierce wills and passions against the backdrop of the exciting but fear-provoking, still-to-be-explored West.
Playwright Henley has woven a marvelous tapestry of fierce wills and passions against the backdrop of the exciting but fear-provoking, still-to-be-explored West. A Pulitzer Prize winner for her earlier “Crimes of the Heart,” Henley can write dialogue ranging from the earthy to the poetic, and the twists and turns of the plot and characters’ behavior make “Abundance” a fascinating adventure.

Performances, under the astute direction of Jenn Thompson, co-artistic director of TACT/The Actors Company Theatre, which is presenting “Abundance,” are outstanding.

Tracy Middendorf skillfully expands her performance from the initially timid Bess to brittle tyrant. Kelly McAndrew impresses with her high energy and the ability to infuse Macon with unerring manipulative skills.

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Todd Lawson effectively projects a nasty, selfish man, while Ted Koch’s Will grows from a milquetoast to a man who demands his rights.

Jeff Talbott sets just the right tone for an impresario who will woo and win Bess to the touring circuit.

The beautifully coordinated technical team features the abstract but effective set (hills, clouds, and stars) by Wilson Chin, aided by lighting by Philip Rosenberg and costumes by Tracy Christensen.

Kudos are well deserved by Toby Algya, for his sound design and original music, which enhance the altogether impressive production.

‘Abundance’
Beckett Theatre
410 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes (with intermission)
Closes: March 28

Diana Barth publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information see diabarth@juno.com.

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