Jess Walter’s vertiginous satirical novel “The Financial Lives of the Poets” spins you into an Everyman vortex of marital woes, financial ruin, elder care and drug running. Along the way down, there are brief detours for flashbacks and haiku poetry, ruminations on a busted American dream and some ranting social critiques.
Try turning all that into a stage play.
And yet, if any outfit can pull it off, Book-It Repertory Theatre can. And, in its new adaptation of the Spokane author’s riotous best-seller, the company does it — and at the top of their game.
As Matt Prior, unemployed journalist-turned-wannabe-pot-dealer, Evan Whitfield aces a role that seems custom-built for him.
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Whitfield is completely relatable as an intelligent, clean-cut family guy who makes, hilariously and pitifully, one terrible decision after another while trying to save his imploding middle-class lifestyle.
A sardonic chronicler of his own failings, Matt is unable to suppress his worst impulses. He’s a victim of the 2009 financial crash — but also, he knows, his own misguided choices.
Director Myra Platt’s faithful and fluid adaptation of the book wisely unfurls entirely from Matt’s perspective, and in his narrative voice. We, it turns it out, are his main confidants.
The tale begins at a convenience store where, buying a jug of milk, he meets some friendly teen potheads, and embarks on a crazed five-day odyssey to keep his wife Lisa (Jennifer Sue Johnson) from running off with an old flame, and a bank from foreclosing their devalued house.
What follows is a saga rich in irony, and in colorful characters evoked by an unerring cast. Trick Danneker is Jamie, the cool kid who becomes Matt’s drug connection. Todd Jefferson Moore captures the machismo and poignant befuddlement, of Matt’s senile father, Jerry.
From Spike Huntington and Kevin Bordi as numskull pot-farming brothers, to Richard Nguyen Sloniker as a neurotic crooked lawyer, these actors doesn’t miss a trick.
Platt’s staging on Andrea Bryn Bush’s basic, newspaper-plastered set swiftly glides from narrative to incident, flashback to haiku. And such devices as a rapping Greek chorus of stoners and some slo-mo and sped-up action inject extra theatrical juice. (One note: Several mini-scenes, especially near the end, impede the pacing and could be cut).
“Financial Lives” is laugh-aloud funnier than any show I’ve seen in a good while. But Book-It’s version does not ignore the novel’s pangs of melancholy, of midlife longing for renewed adolescence. Nor does it omit Walter’s incisive critique of an ingrained American belief in consumer entitlement — sometimes at the expensive of such nonmaterial satisfactions as domestic harmony and, yes, poetry.
“The world needs more poets!” proclaims Matt, who tends to quote the likes of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost in his musings. Hear, hear.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org