Bitches and Money 1878

Ian Jackson, EPIC PhotographyIan Jackson, EPIC Photography

For a man with a bullet wound in his back, the male lead of Northern Light Theatre’s season opener is remarkably lively.
Shady cardsharp “Black” Jack (Benjamin Gorodetsky) is in a mesmeric state, you see, so he isn’t yet affected by the wound. So explains his smug cohort Patience (Andréa Jorawsky), one half of Jack’s female partners-in-crime. It’s the kind of pseudo-medical diagnosis you’d expect to find in the pages of a nineteenth-century science-fiction novel, and indeed that’s precisely the era and atmosphere evoked by Bitches & Money 1878.

The show’s title is a wild card—UK playwright Martin Henshell named it after a line from an NWA song, but the show is about a trio of Victorian-era card hustlers (not a very common subject in hip hop). Ringleader Jack is a bumbling dunce who needs his female partners, the aforementioned science-obsessed Patience and the sexually wily Cora (Laura Gillespie) to help execute his cons. On this particular evening the deal has gone wrong, people are dead, Jack has been shot and their booby-trapped trunk of loot can only be opened with three keys—and one has gone missing.

Steampunk, that intersection of Victorian England and American West conveyed by peculiar gadgets and fanciful clothing, is a trendy esthetic these days. Director Trevor Schmidt uses it judiciously here: a few flourishes in the costuming and some exposed pipes—one of which literally hisses steam—make up the bulk of it.

Bitches & Money builds suspense artfully by doing away with chronology, jumping through the events out of order. It’s a fun ride trying to piece together what actually transpired, especially in the show’s more outlandish moments when the actors really dig into their characters: what those characters lack in depth and development, they make up for in the performers’ ability to convincingly navigate the instantaneous shifts in power and the hoop-jumping they force upon the others. All of this intrigue is quashed, however, by an abrupt and unresolved ending. It’s a peculiar choice: a gang caper’s stakes are built upon having an ultimate victor who gets away with it, so taking that away feels like an invalidation of the story’s entire premise.

Bitches & Money 1878 is lighter fare than we’ve recently seen from Northern Light Theatre. It isn’t a show that will challenge or provoke you, but rather is a fun diversion that’s capably acted by a trio of young performers.

Until Sat, Nov 30 (7:30 pm)
Directed by Trevor Schmidt
ATB Financial Arts Barns, $16 – $28

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