Theater review by Adam Feldman
In his sensationally prickly and entertaining new play, The Low Road, Bruce Norris follows the money as it takes him down twisting and treacherous paths. The playwright’s subject is capitalism, and he starts at the source. At a humble inn and brothel in 18th-century New England, a boy named Jim—who was abandoned there as a baby, with a note identifying his father as one G. Washington—chances upon a draft of Adam Smith’s foundational treatise The Wealth of Nations. Later, inspired with quasi-religious ardor by Smith’s notion of an “invisible hand” that alchemizes greed into social utility, the teenage Jim (Chris Perfetti) embarks on a series of misadventures, combining rapacious self-interest with callow overconfidence.
In the course of this wide-paneled epic—marvelously assembled by director Michael Greif, on a splendid set by David Korins—Norris aims liberating arrows of skepticism at a diverse range of targets. Colonial America, colonies of bees, slavery, charity, piety, hypocrisy, highway robbery, financial chicanery, income inequality: These are just a few of the concerns in which The Low Road invests its satire. Adam Smith himself (Daniel Davis) serves as our narrator, yanking us out of the Yankee picaresque with knowing asides; the play’s gleefully theatrical devices also include a radical time shift and a hilarious anti–deus ex machina.
The Low Road enjoys being a play, and its dramatic weaponry is wielded with skill by a first-rate cast of 18 that includes Chukwudi Iwuji, Kevin Chamberlin, Crystal A. Dickinson, Max Baker, Richard Poe, Susannah Perkins, Danny Wolohan and the divinely tart Harriet Harris. But don’t get too cozy watching it: Norris has a heart that doubts whatever it looks on, and its looks go everywhere, even to the audience. In every sense, his play is an embarrassment of riches.
Public Theatre (Off Broadway). By Bruce Norris. Directed by Michael Greif. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.