Adam Haas Hunter, Daniel Reichert, Paige Lindsey White and Lily Holleman in Abundance by Beth Henley (2015). Photo by Debora Robinson.
1860. A stagecoach pulls into a station in the middle of the Wyoming Territory. Off step two mail-order brides, one innocent and wide-eyed, the other spunky and assertive. For the next quarter of a century, they struggle with the incongruities of fate while clinging to their dreams in a fierce and funny story set in a wild west that would have daunted even Thelma and Louise. This dark comedy by Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart) has found a new life, both here from its 1989 world premiere, and in New York, where The New York Times said its revival “makes you realize how much you’ve missed a playwright’s voice.”
Twenty-five years after Beth Henley's Abundance had its world premiere at South Coast Repertory, the theatre brought the play back to audiences—much to the delight of actor Paige Lindsay White, who portrayed Macon, one of the frontier mail-order brides in the story. She had been in a university production of the play and it quickly became one of her favorites. She has some very precise reasons for choosing the photo above as a key moment from Abundance (2015)—including some eerie connections to the world premiere.
What moment does this depict?
This is when my character, Macon, is calling for the night's celebrations to include dancing, and, if no one else will dance with her, she is perfectly content having everyone else watch her. This is right near the end of Act One; it’s an anniversary celebration of the two mail-order brides, Macon and Bess, to their strange homesteader husbands.
How did you work to make this moment happen?
Here Macon is the center of attention. She already has the established relations of her doting husband, Will, and her deprived friend, Bess, who are in the background. In this staging, Macon dances watching only Jack Flan (Bess's husband)—and Jack Flan watching only her. Their outward flirtations are about to take a dark and private turn.
What’s the power about this moment?
Neither Macon nor Bess's dreams have been fulfilled. Macon was hoping for a grand adventure; Bess, simply a loving home. Macon urged Bess to escape with her, until Macon began to settle into material comforts—as well as the admiration of Will and Jack. Bess finally realized that she deserved more than her abusive husband and was ready to leave only when Macon was not inclined to go anymore. Here, Macon basks in the spotlight she craves, but the shadows cast on Bess belittle her and endanger her. Macon can thrive if she turns a blind eye to Bess's withering.
Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?
Here what I love about this photo: SCR commissioned the original production of Abundance 25-years prior to our production. The play spans 25 years and so our staging felt like a bookend to honor the original. There is a photo of this scene from the original production (1989) in the hallway near the dressing rooms. In it, Macon, true-to-form, is the focus of attention with hands outstretched. She has a cast on her right hand, because the actor broke her wrist in rehearsals. In our production, I wore her same brown dress for most of the first act—and 25 years later—with a cast on my right hand, because I broke it the night of the first preview. Is there a curse of Macon?!
Abundance was my first production with South Coast Repertory. It has a very special place in my heart. I love this cast so much, all talented and generous people. And I love this play. I had been in a production of it at the University of Alabama in 2000 where I played Bess. Both Macon and Bess are captivating and complicated women and I appreciate Abundance as a play with two strong female leads, written when such roles were not abundant. Thank you, SCR for commissioning it!