Selling out takes the stage

Themes of over-the-top spending and plaguing economic woes all beg the question, “How much is too much?”

Through ornate lobby design, social media squabbles and a provocative, startlingly relatable performance, a new production at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre brings greed, corruption and capitalism to the center stage, in attempt to answer that very question.

“Civilization (All You Can Eat)” is a humorous political commentary on widening wealth gaps and tough economic times.

The audience is transported back to 2008 and embroiled in the heat of the presidential election between John McCain and Barack Obama. The economy is about to tank and each character is dealing with serious cases of desperation, disappointment and hopelessness.

At the end of their ropes, the characters begin to question if capitalism is really working for them.

Photo courtesy of Stan Barouh
JaBen Early acts on stage with company member Sarah Marshall. The Woolly Mammoth Theatre is known for producing new plays that challenge theatrical conventions.

“It really wants to ask us to look at the structure of the enterprise of American capitalism,” Howard Shalwitz, the play’s director, said in a video message.

The audience is left with a message about the harsh economic times Americans face while trying to provide for their families as well as fulfill themselves both at home and at the workplace.

“The theme of ‘selling out’ is also pretty prevalent in that it asks questions such as, ‘Would you compromise your principles or goals to achieve financial security?’ I think this is something that recent college grads will struggle with, ‘Do you follow your heart, or ultimately do you choose a job to make ends meet?’ ” Brooke Miller, the press and digital content manager, said.

In the play, Zoe, a striving director, is stuck filming Twix commercials until she can finally make it in the movie business. She hires her friend David, who is tight with money and recently attempted suicide. Zoe constantly squabbles with her sister-in-law, Carol, because of a palpable racism and ignorance towards American politics. Carol and her daughter Jade can’t afford to pay the bills on their house. Jade turns to adult entertainment to try to turn things around for her family.

As each story unfolds, a “Big Hog” reappears between scenes sharing what lessons have been learned from the humans in the play.

“Like most of us were in 2008, the characters are so consumed by their efforts to put food on the table that they can’t see the global economic disaster straight ahead,” Miriam Weisfeld, the production’s dramaturg, said.

A unique element of connectivity, aiming to build the “total audience experience” is at the theatrical forefront. The idea was thought up by a group of staff, artists and engaged volunteers who acted as a focus group for the connectivity aspects of the theater’s productions, Miller explained.

Audience members and fans are encouraged to engage via social media to vote on their favorite society, a March Madness-style competition to decide the best “civilization.” Choices range from Modern Mexico to Harry Potter’s world.

“We were going along with the theme of ‘selling out’ that’s prevalent in the show – we are asking our audience members, ‘How much is too much?’ and, ‘Will you corrupt yourself to get what you want?’” Miller said.

“Civilization (All You Can Eat)” will be showing at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre through March 11.

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