LISTEN WHILE YOU WORK
Santa Rosa playwright mocks the rich in ‘Savage Wealth’
“Somehow, in America particularly, we always believe that some people must know something because they’re rich,” British-born playwright Bob Duxbury observes.
“Believe me, having been around a lot a very stupid rich people during my life, I can assure you that is, in fact, not the case.”
That rather acidic contention is at the heart of the retired Santa Rosa Junior College English teacher’s new satirical play, “Savage Wealth,” which opens Friday, Aug. 31, at the Main Stage West theater in Sebastopol.
The title of the play is inspired by an essay titled “Wealth,” and written in 1889 by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, best remembered for establishing some 3,000 public libraries in the United States and throughout the English-speaking world.
Duxbury embraces that idea, believing that true philanthrophy is about investing in the public good, rather than building monuments to oneself, but he’d like to expand on that.
“We seem to be giving money to museums and libraries and concert halls, which I have no problem with, but I also think that it probably would be better if we taxed people at a very high rate, once they make two million dollars, and then we decide what to give the money to, rather than allowing a bunch of rich people to tell us what they’ve decided,” Duxbury said.
While that idea does come up in “Savage Wealth,” the play is a satire on philanthropy, not a serious lecture on economic equality, said the production’s director, John Shillington, who teaches in the drama department at the Santa Rosa Junior College.
“All of Bob’s plays are about class, but this is a very funny play,” said Shillngton, who has collaborated with the author in the past, “It’s about brothers, and I just found it very true to life about how brothers can drive each other nuts.”
The plot is simple: The politically ambitious Todd (Peter Downey) and his slacker brother Gabe (Matt Cadigan) want to sell the Lake Tahoe home they inherited, but their lives are complicated by their childhood friend Beenie (Ilana Neirnberger), who owns the vacant lot opposite their property. Beanie owns a statue by sculptor Benjamin Bufano that belonged to the brothers’ mother and will part with it, but she wants something in return.
Duxbury, 64, came to the United States in 1980 on a Fulbright scholarship. He started teaching at the Santa Rosa Junior College in 1981 and retired four years ago . He and his wife, author Joan Frank, live in Santa Rosa.
Duxbury figures he has written a dozen plays, several of them performed locally, including one at the junior college, and others produced in the Bay Area.
“It’s a delight working with Bob,” Shillington said. “He’s got an acerbic sense of humor.”
The playwright concede he enjoys poking fun at the rich.
“They say the difference between a fool and an eccentric is $200,000 a year,” he said.
To his director Shillington, the fun part of the play is the fraternal friction between the lead characters.
“Why are family members so good at pushing your buttons?” he asked. “Because they installed them.”
You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @danarts.