Opening Nights: Money Changes Everything

A heist tale better suited to TV.

If you'll recall, "Money Changes Everything" is the title of Cyndi Lauper's delightfully loopy song. Only half that can be said about Rachel Atkins' play: It's loopy all right, but falters well short of delight. This true-crime story is based on a 1997 case in Charlotte, North Carolina—the second-largest cash robbery in American history—and details the swift unraveling of both the plan and the perpetrators. If Atkins' text is any indicator, the source material is rich stuff indeed. She's changed the names of the hapless principals involved, but otherwise the actual back story is loaded with machination, backstabbing, and a scheme that should never have worked but almost did. It's a mystery that Money so lacks momentum, since Atkins' scenes are so short as to be a PowerPoint presentation. Click: Here's the oddball crew that thinks it can pull off a heist of Loomis Fargo. Click: Here's the brains of the outfit, Mitch (Laurence Hughes), using his machismo charisma on an old flame (Lisa Branham) to conspire with vault guard Kevin (Brandon Ryan) to set up the conspiracy. Click: Here's how the break-in went down. I doubt a single scene lasts three and a half minutes. Money may be more appropriate as a teleplay than as something put live onstage. Changing locale at every possible juncture works well if you're writing for the screen, but sitting in the audience through blackouts every 30 seconds gets old fast (particularly with a run time exceeding two hours). Which is not to say that Atkins can't tell a tale (she has a history of doing so at Book-It Rep), or that she doesn't have estimable help from her cast and director Daniel Morris. Branham's performance in particular is simple and unaffected as the woman who wants to be free of the men who meet the bare minimum of her sexual and financial needs. Hughes seems to have dropped into the production straight out of MSNBC's Lockup prison documentary series. Jesse Lee Keeter and Curtis Eastwood do a laudable job as the FBI gumshoes who crack the case of the stolen $17 million. But not everyone here is playing from the same score. Gina Marie Russell plays the airheaded and breast-augmented Candy (Mitch's wife) like a broad countermelody to the play's docudrama tone. That goes double for Ryan, whose spastic mannerisms and loudmouthed line readings—several decibels louder than his castmates'—go well beyond establishing a few quirky character traits. Director Morris could have ironed out these evident rough spots—and might yet do so. If everybody was on the same page about how realistic the play ought to be, it'd be much easier to appreciate Money Changes Everything. As it is, it's difficult to ascertain whether we're seeing a serious crime story unfold, or a lampoon of the trailer-park set.

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