Eugene Weekly : Theater : 2.7.08

Lawyers, Loggers and the Love of Money
Buying Time with heart at LCC

A once cutting-edge nationally renowned environmental law firm has become the stooge of big business, leaving its members in Armani suits and BMWs, pondering how it happened.

Bennett Traube (Parsa Naderi) listens to Del Gregorian (A.J. Klein)

That’s Buying Time, currently playing at LCC. Funny, painful, frustrating, this play feels real. That is no coincidence; the events and characters are based on a real-life drama that unfolded for an Arizona law firm in 1994. Inspiration for the play came when playwright Michael Weller was eavesdropping on a phone conversation his wife was having with the wife of a lawyer at the firm. Curiosity piqued, he spent a few months hanging out at the firm where an amazing story and memorable characters literally fell into his lap, including a twist ending any writer would be hard pressed to make up.

There are characters of extraordinary depth and complexity. Bennett Traube, skillfully executed by Parsa Naderi, takes his hero’s journey in fits and starts. Traube is real, a bewildered man: passionate, overworked, adrift from his dreams, estranged from his family and unsure of how to act. His wife Jobeth (Michelle Nordella) shares the frustration of any highly capable woman who has become dependent on her husband for security and status. Corporate lawyer Del Gregorian (A.J. Klein) is a man so beaten down he willingly sides with money, for love and idealism have failed him.

And then there are the larger than life characters: a Thucydides-referencing, string-tie-wearing mining baron; a moneyed idealist with a wicked wit and nothing to lose; and a stage full of cocky, foul-mouthed super-lawyers. They balance the moral weight of the show and draw in the audience with humor while the playwright hits you upside the head with detailed information on how, exactly, our world is headed to hell in a handbasket.

The play is not as tightly crafted as some of Weller’s more famous works, such as Moon Children or Loose Ends. Particularly difficult to accept is the relationship between Traube and the sexy, young, headstrong environmental lawyer Christine Martel (Charlene Westbrook.) It seems a cheap way to advance a plot that rolls along just fine on its own. Yet what makes this play so wonderful is the real, imperfect people and story. If the story is muddled by an unnecessary affair, so can life be as well.

If the stereotype of a hot/idealistic lawyer gets on your nerves, you will quickly forgive the author when talented Tara Wilbrew enters, playing Margot Buonovecchio (a character based on Janet Napolitano, current governor of Arizona and the first female attorney general of Arizona.) Smart, insightful, committed to the better angels of our hero’s nature, her character plays like a really funny Horatio (were he a closet smoker).

The leadership of director Chris Pinto is evident in the way the cast works together. Pinto chose not to import a few heavy-hitting professionals but to cast almost entirely student and amateur actors (with the exception of LCC theater prof Patrick Torelle, adorable as firm leader Abe Einhorn). With young actors and larger than life characters, one expects a certain amount of ham, yet Pinto keeps his group focused with actors balancing one another rather than striving for attention. Multiple scene changes make the play a challenge and threaten to slow the action but are handled efficiently and creatively.

Don’t go to this play expecting perfection. There are certain limitations on any production involving young men with streaks of gray sprayed into their hair. Ability levels between actors vary. There are ill-fitting costumes and a complete non sequitur when a flamingly gay roommate puts out hors d’oeuvres for dinner at 10 at night. Go see this play because it is important and it is done with passion.

At a talk-back with the author after the show, an audience member asked playwright Weller what he thought of watching his work performed by college students rather than professionals. Weller responded, “You expect to see everybody doing a job with their whole heart, or with bullshit.” With LCC, you get heart.

Buying Time runs through Feb. 16 at LCC. Tix available at 463-5761.