In 'Rich,' theme about greed is on the money

November 06, 2008|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

"This is a story about a bad smell. About a bunch of rich, powerful people pushing [and shoving] each other and everyone else to get a whole lot more money and power that they don't really need in the first place. It's about payoffs and favors and double plays and connections."

Playwright George F. Walker, Filthy Rich

If you think about it, the financial meltdown and giant bailout of Wall Street has the makings of classic film noir: There's corruption and greed, conspiracy and scandal, misappropriation of vast sums of money, and all manner of shady dealings that won't stand the light of day.

So Everyman Theatre's production of Filthy Rich, which officially opens tomorrow, seems weirdly prescient. The work by prominent Canadian playwright George F. Walker works as both a sendup of the genre and an example of it.

"George is horrified by greed," says Daniel DeRaey, who is directing the show and has known the playwright for more than two decades.

"He thinks it makes monsters of people. To satisfy your greed, you have to be insensitive to the needs of everyone else. There's a line in Filthy Rich where someone says that it's getting hard to tell the gangsters from the respectable people."

Filthy Rich is set in the 1940s and features a hard-drinking private eye who is named, not coincidentally, Tyrone Power, a homage to the actor who specialized in swashbuckling roles. Against his better inclination, the gumshoe gets drawn into investigating the disappearance of a mayoral candidate. There's a murder, a suitcase of money and two femme fatales.

"This is film noir with a heart," says DeRaey, who consults frequently with the playwright and is considered among the foremost interpreters of his works.

"It looks like a spoof, but beneath the light surface, there's a lot of sadness and pain. The biggest directing challenge I have is that the play is so obviously funny. But if the actors just bring out the comedy, the audience will miss the heartbreak."

Walker writes about the disillusioned dreamers and sore losers (one of his plays is titled Criminals in Love) he met while growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Toronto.

He was driving a cab in the early 1970s when he saw an advertisement posted by a new theater troupe seeking original scripts. His submission, The Prince of Naples, began a career that now includes at least 23 plays and three series for Canadian TV.

The playwright's early works (Filthy Rich was written in 1979) are replete with pop-culture references to B movies, melodrama and, of course, film noir.

"George's plays never take a shot at the people on the lower rungs of the ladder," DeRaey says. "His characters have a remarkable integrity, and they're all smarter than we are."

Though Walker is one of Canada's most prominent playwrights and his playful, ironic satires have been produced all over the world, there have been relatively few productions of those works in the United States.

"There are very few Canadian writers that have big careers down here," DeRaey says.

"It's puzzling. Every now and then, a regional theater will discover George's writing, and there will be a flurry of productions. Washington had a spate of his shows several years ago, but I think this is the first time one of George's plays has been produced locally. Maybe now he'll have a following in Baltimore."

if you go

Filthy Rich runs at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St., through Dec. 14. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18-$38. Call 410-752-2208 or go to everymantheatre.org.

daniel deraey

Age: 62

Occupation: actor and stage director

Current gig: Directing Filthy Rich at Everyman Theatre

Residence: New York

Birthplace: New York

Education: bachelor's and master's degrees in English literature from Fordham University

Personal: single, no children

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