A Cool Million at the Jack Studio
Making its world premiere at the Jack Studio Theatre, A Cool Million (or the Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin) is a sharp, witty and tragic satire of American greed and ambition, told through the unfortunate demise of its gullible hero.
Nathaneal West’s harrowing tale is adapted for the stage by Joss Bennathan, and portrayed by three enthusiastic and lively vaudevillians (Matthew Ashcroft, Robert Durbin and James Macnaughton), donning matching striped sports coats, straw hats and spats, and each taking turns to represent the ill-fated characters. It is difficult to distinguish a standout performance as, during the 75 minutes, all three share the responsibility of distinguishing each persona, including hustlers, distressed damsels, corrupt cops, big-headed politicians, big city grifters, and the unfortunate Pitkin. Directed with careful precision by Kate Bannister, each of the 76 characters is presented and transitions seamlessly with exact comic timing and farcical movement, though at times the optimistic hero, Lemuel Pitkin, is lost in these shifts.
The shared narrative displays teamwork and camaraderie between the three men, and recalls the trustworthiness Pitkin upholds to a fault, bringing him from one unfortunate situation to the next. The company employs farce to make light of Pitkin’s misfortune as he is beaten, looted and literally dismantled, losing his teeth, eye, thumb, scalp and leg. Even given his physical dismemberment, made absurd by the use of mime, whistles, kazoos and canes, his optimism does not falter, leaving the audience with a sense of confusion and hilarity.
Through the endless facades and ridiculous scenes, music adds a contrasting poignancy to the production. Accompanied by a ukulele, mandolin and the three voices, the songs between the dialogue provide a sense of reflection amid the madness in which the cracks of the so-called “American ideal” start to show.
The play sheds light on the harsh truth of the American Dream at the height of the Great Depression, in the guise of musical farce. As the manipulative Shagpoke Whipple claims: “America is the land of opportunity. This is not a matter of opinion, it is one of faith.” It is through this blind faith that poor Lemuel Pitkin loses various parts of his body, but not his spirit. This is a unique theatrical experience that achieves a balance of dark humour and poignant tragedy, leaving audiences to question the sacrifice made for the sake of a quick buck.
Photo: Tim Stubbs Hughes
A Cool Million is on at the Jack Studio Theatre from 27th October until 14th November 2015, for further information or to book visit here.