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With a running time of just over an hour, any production of Lee Blessing’s Riches should be a brisk, taut affair that carefully builds to a violent crescendo. It’s puzzling then that Anacostia Playhouse’s take on this 1980s two-hander—about a couple at odds on their 18th wedding anniversary—tends to plod flabbily along with scant traces of tension and an underwhelming sense of emotional stakes.
David Rich (Dana Scott Galloway) can’t wait to re-propose to wife Carolyn (Adele Robey) as the couple settles into the hotel where they honeymooned nearly two decades ago. But traces of Carolyn’s dissatisfaction crop up early, when she chooses pre-dinner drinks at the bar over pre-dinner sex. When David asks how he’s been as a husband, he’s unhappy with her tepid reply: “fine.” Things go from lukewarm to ice cold when Carolyn responds to David’s down-on-one-knee diamond offering with a request for divorce.
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Galloway and Robey each give strong individual performances—he as the successful businessman, assured that he can over-manage passion back into the tedious marriage; she as the over-it woman who has outgrown co-dependency and is up for new adventures sans spouse. Still, their chemistry as a couple never quite hits the mark, so it’s hard to believe he’s desperate to keep her and hard to get behind her race toward the exit sign. When the sparring escalates from verbal to physical, there’s a stage-y element to the combat that makes it ring false, not full of fury and danger as it should feel. Arms and legs flail and blood flows, but canned sound effects and stiff blocking detract from the dramatic appeal.
What does land an impactful punch in this production is the script’s commentary on privilege, played effectively by both Galloway and Robey. When Carolyn explains that a news article about a recently discovered planet steered her soul-searching toward divorce, David is entirely deaf to what he sees as her ludicrous reasoning. It’s a gorgeously crafted and delivered missive (by both Blessing and Robey). She feels as erased and unseen as that invisible planet, like that “black body,” she says. He, in a response devoid of understanding, enumerates all the material riches bequeathed to them (nice house, greatest country, etc.), ending his side of the argument with an emphatic, “We are not black bodies.” Though the play sometimes feels dated, stuck in marital ennui among upper middle-class haves that epitomized the ’80s, it’s difficult to hear that line and not be reminded of the violence against black bodies and the glaring privilege of white bodies happening in the here-and-now.
The play runs to Aug. 14. 2020 Shannon Place SE. $20–$30. anacostiaplayhouse.com.