Suburban dad Matt Prior is in trouble—the especially pitiable kind of trouble that results from bad choices compounded with worse luck. A career business reporter, Prior quit his newspaper job to start a website devoted to poets who wrote about money. That didn't pan out—surprise, surprise—so he crawled back to the paper and was promptly laid off. Now he's deep in debt and his house might be seized within the week, turning him, his two sons, his senile father, and his increasingly unhappy wife into five more economic refugees of the Great Recession. A late-night encounter at a 7-Eleven with some local stoners gives him the bright idea to become a pot dealer for some fast cash. That's where his problems really begin.
Originally an entertaining novel by Jess Walter, now a rollicking stage comedy adapted and directed by Myra Platt, The Financial Lives of the Poets is a drug farce that sweeps its characters along like white-water rapids—as if the characters in Breaking Bad woke up to find themselves in A Confederacy of Dunces.
Evan Whitfield plays Prior with a combination of wild-eyed exuberance and depressive sweetness, and the rest of the 17-member cast keeps the pace jumping with too many high-caliber performances to name. A sampling: Todd Jefferson Moore as the gruff and senile father, Mike Mathieu (of comedy duo the Cody Rivers Show) as Prior's romantic rival who works at a fictionalized Home Depot, Jennifer Sue Johnson as the wry but distant wife. In one scene, Prior describes her "population-control pajamas," made of "burlap, fiberglass insulation, and razor wire."
The dialogue is sharp and funny—"You're selling drugs to pay for private Catholic school? That's so Iran-Contra!"—and though the exposition can be a little heavy on cute alliteration, it's a small flaw in this thoroughly enjoyable new play.