|Paige Lindsey White and Lily Holleman in Abundance.|
In 1976, Beth Henley moved to Los Angeles. The young writer and actress was looking for a big break in the film industry—and was disappointed to find that, for so many, the West remains an inhospitable place for young people with big dreams.
|Playwright Beth Henley|
But Henley never forgot the years when her goals seemed maddeningly elusive, and circled back to the theme in 1989’s Abundance. “I was dealing with what happens with people's dreams,” she says. “People come out to California so full of hope to be an actress or to be in movies and slowly they find themselves working at Chicken Bob's or they want to be great novelists and they're trying to write bad TV scripts. How do your dreams get chipped away?” Inspired by the bleak images of 19th-century settlers in a book called Wisconsin Death Trip, she began thinking about the mythology of the American West and what happens when the reality proves to be more complicated than the myth. She found her subject in two young women who, like Henley and so many others, traveled west with high hopes.
In Abundance, Macon Hill and Bess Johnson come to the Wyoming Territory in 1868 as mail-order brides. Both have received “partial fare” from their husbands-to-be. The long journey, during which Bess had practiced saying “I do,” has put her near the end of her tether. Macon, however, is invigorated by the adventures that surely await, and by the opportunity to become whoever she wants to be.
Macon’s husband turns out to be William Curtis, a stolid and decent farmer who has lost an eye in a mining accident. Bess’s new spouse is Jack Flan, as wild a man as Wyoming has to offer. The two couples marry and begin their lives as settlers. They soon learn that the seemingly endless promise of the Western Territories comes with a price.
Abundance follows the Flans and Curtises from 1868 to 1893. What occurs during the 25-year span involves the dreams of all four confronting the reality of what they can create together and separately. Not surprisingly, the characters don’t always get what they want. With perhaps one exception they do face despair in their lives but ultimately find hope in themselves. And interestingly, that hope sometimes has its foundation in answers taught and things given to us by those who may have also had a hand in our despair.
Twenty-six years after Abundance premiered at South Coast Repertory, its lyricism and epic scope continue to resonate with audiences. New York Times critic Laura Collins-Hughs described a recent off-Broadway revival as “the sort of production that makes you realize how much you’ve missed a playwright’s voice.” Like Crimes of the Heart, Abundance is steeped in Henley’s signature sense of humor, which mines humanity’s highs and lows for moments of comic absurdity.
We are proud to welcome Beth Henley’s Abundance back home to SCR as part of our 2015-16 season. “I’ve always loved Beth’s work,” says Founding Artistic Director Martin Benson, who helms the current production. “She has some of the most beautiful imagery in her plays, and they’re always tremendously interesting in where they go. John Millington Synge once said about a play that it should be full flavored like a berry or a nut, and all Beth’s plays are totally full flavored.”
Benson is joined by two members of the original 1989 world premiere production team. In addition to their considerable artistic talents, composer Michael Roth and dramaturg Jerry Patch have provided the current cast and production team with insights into the play’s history and development—plus a few choice stories from the "good old days."
Learn more and buy tickets.