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Theater Review
by Melinda Given Guttmann

Bad news brings mixed responses from the legal brains of Donne & Russo in "Buying Time"

"Buying Time" (premiere)
by Michael Weller
Directed by Amy Feinberg
Original run: November 1 to December 3 (opened November 5)
Presented by Hypothetical Theatre Company, Amy Feinberg, Artistic Director
Sol Goldman Y of the Educational Alliance, 344 E. 14th Street
Box Office: Smarttix (212) 206-1515 www.smartix.com (on-line ticketing available)
Reviewed by Melinda Given Guttmann November 16
Michael Weller's new play, "Buying Time," is an eco-legal thriller set in set in an imaginary Southwest law firm in 1991. The firm allows 20% pro bono publicum work in an increasingly fierce war between idealistic lawyers and the "extractive mafia." The lawyers still dream of international justice, legal aid, and the protection of the environment, concepts which have become an "historical curiousity" and luxury. They battle the pound-of-flesh greedy, money-obsessed workacholic warrior lawyers backed by corporations and lobbyists for oil, mining, and timber interests.

This play, said to be based on an actual event, raises documentary-type realism to high artistic levels. Spritual activists like Andrew Harvey, eco-feminists and peace activists like Joanna Macy believe that the planet optimistically has 25 years before natural balance will be irreversably destroyed, and the earth will be unable to sustain life of any kind. Well, the stakes were also high when Vietnam Buddhists torched themselves to protest the war. They sacrificed their lives to become symbols for the urgency of peace. Now the weapons of desperation are not so honorable; in the corrupt Ninties of Weller's play, sex, bribes, scandal and blackmail are the weapons of the war to save the earth. So is dirty compromise, illustrated in the narrative when the firm, facing the loss of its "cash cow" corporate client, barters the death of an endagered species of bird and the destruction of a vast forest for the chance to fight another day.
Chuck Montgomery and Lee Sellars in "Buying Time"

Weller has written a brilliant hyper-realist satiric work, expanding the conventions of Ibsen's realistic techniques. He creates psychologically complex and colorful characters, a knotty plot, with suspenseful twists and turns of irony, black humor. The conflict of ideas and passion for social change are never turned into dogma.

Realism was a revolutionary theatrical form in the l890's and has become once again a revolutionary form in Weller's 1990's drama. Weller, like Ibsen, is au fond a writer of serious ideas and a seeker for truth. This play would have a successful run on Broadway; it is a winner for New York's topflight lawyers, CEO's, and stockbrokers as its audience. The theatre public, which always relished Shakespeare's phrase "first, let's kill all the lawyers" from Henry IV part II, would be wildly enthusiastic also.

Weller reports the toxicity of our times, our despair, our psychic numbing, and our alienation from nature and each other. He has keen awareness,comic insight and compassion for both his characters and his audience.

Amy Feinberg's directing juxtaposes contrasting scenes with a wide variety of emotional color. The style is fast-paced wit and there is superb sensitivity to the collective madness of the 14 characters, who are finely tuned at high energy in a posionous culture.

See this play and hope that the audience can buy time for the run to be extended. It needs to move to the Broadway for the venue it deserves. [MMG]

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