“The Financial Lives of the Poets” produced by Book-It

In our present recessionary society, Matt Prior (Evan Whitfield), husband, father, finance journalist, and central character in “The Financial Lives of the Poets”¬†left his job to start up a finance web site written in blank verse. Finance presented in blank verse? Insane! Of course it fails. How could he not know it would? Here, Matt isn’t presented as a cockeyed optimist as perhaps he is in the book. Here Matt comes off as hapless and naive.

What middle aged, middle class, responsible family man takes up with young druggies at a convenience store when he rushes out late at night to get milk for his kids’ breakfast? And what man, sound of mind, would immediately decide to become a dealer based on the quality of their marijuana? How could anyone of normal intelligence do that even if he were really down on his luck? The idea that Matt is just addlebrained gains further gravitas when he takes all of his remaining finances, and gives the entire wad to a dope grower for three small bags of high quality marijuana and a promise of two pounds at a later time?

Though Matt the character is somewhat unbelievable, the production is quite good at capturing the ethos and pathos of contemporary society where houses are repossessed, jobs are lost, and dreams are shattered. This is a work that shines a light on the frustrations and personal crises so common over the past few years. It’s also a play where the individual lines are outrageously zany, marvelously funny. Sadly, as a whole, it strains credulity and feels like a knockoff of “Weeds.”

Within the good cast, Jennifer Sue Johnson as Matt’s wife is particularly compelling. She lights up the stage whenever she appears. Overall the production values are high. I just couldn’t embrace a script where Matt is more like Homer Simpson than the head of a family down the street trying to cope in difficult times.

Jess Walters may have written an award-nominated novel, but Book-It’s adaptation of novel to stage makes one question the nomination. Oh, the production’s very funny. Very funny in the way sit-coms and cartoons are, with character development at just about that level.

Through June 30 at the Floyd and Delores Jones Playhouse, 4045 University Way, NE, Seattle; (206 216-0833 or www.book-it.org)

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