Crazy or inspired: the what-if? of The Wrong People Have Money, premiering at Shadow Theatre

Linda Grass and Julien Arnold in The Wrong People Have Money, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Here’s a what-if? to stop you in your tracks and make you smile. What if you moved Greenland south to the middle of the Atlantic? Think of the benefits, for human habitation and commerce.

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In The Wrong People Have Money, the comedy launching the Shadow Theatre season Thursday, that’s the assignment a professor presents to his “tethering the moon” class on speculative thinking and human ingenuity. After all, as a character will argue later in the play, “all great innovations started out as crazy ideas.” 

Playwright Reed McColm is something of a connoisseur of outrageous claims and absurd provocations. “Moving Greenland: I used to do it as a party joke,” he says. “Whenever I met a scientist I’d ask them about something absurd. Silent gunpowder for example (also mentioned in his play). And I’d ask is this possible?” 

The reactions were varied, says the jocular McColm. They included “why are you asking me such a stupid thing?” But frequently, “in the course of outlining how things were impossible, they’d start thinking how they were possible. Which is exactly what I wanted them to do…. So that’s how the play started,” he says of The Wrong People Have Money, which would have opened the 2020-2021 Shadow season had the world been different. 

“In my lifetime I’ve seen some things I didn’t think were possible.…  I guess I wanted to know if there were limits,” he says. “Are there actual ‘can’t do that, ever’ restrictions?” Cellphones, check. Human teleportation, likely in progress. Well, live theatre has some. He teases set designer Cindy Zuby with outrageous design requirements, “you know, a water buffalo ballet, or a fully functional swimming pool that appears only in the first scene.” She hasn’t strangled him yet. 

McColm, who grew up here and went to Harry Ainley High in the days of legendary theatre guru Ken Agrell-Smith, returned to his home town nine years ago after 32 in the U.S., mostly in L.A. He came back with a master’s degree in professional writing from USC, and — since he wrote for TV, including episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation — an expansive view of possibility. Question for the Star Trek writer’s room: “why do we even have shields when they’re always down to 30 per cent; one hit and they’re down!” McColm wants to know. Anyhow, that’s where he met John de Lancie (Q in various Star Trek series), whose name is in the dedication to the play along with Shadow director John Hudson. 

When McColm started writing The Wrong People Have Money, it was with de Lancie in mind, he says of a friend he admires as “endlessly curious and SO knowledgeable. But “it’s evolved quite differently. It was supposed to be about how Professor Delancey’s strange ideas have made him mad. It’s not that any more. The idea of moving Greenland was so strong it kind of took over the play.” Is it lunacy, or is it an attractive business opportunity?

Among his other negative accomplishments, Trump has done huge damages to satire world-wide, “mainly by exceeding it,” as McColm says. What outrageous claim can survive a Trumpian assault on reality? “When Trump explored buying Greenland from Denmark, or swapping it out for Puerto Rice, I thought he’d killed my play….But really, Greenland is just a prop for making a larger point, the one in my title.” McColm laughs.
“I deal in absurdities. And there are plenty to choose from….” 

In The Wrong People Have Money, a deep-pocketed financial consortium, NexThought, led by the mysterious Mme D’Aulnoy (Linda Grass), is intrigued by the profit potential of Professor Delancey’s class assignment. She challenges him to conduct a serious feasibility study of an idea that had been designed as an intellectual workout. “I wanted to write about Delancey’s own circuitous journey toward believing something. I wanted him to have a journey of faith, from a character who is cynical and faith-less…. And he comes closer to believing something than he ever thought he could.” 

“I hope people are moved to thought and conversation,” says McColm of his play, his first to hit the stage in his home town in a professional production. “I want people to talk: ‘here’s something I like; here’s something I question’.” In Spokane, he was artistic director of the now defunct Interplayers Theatre. He remembers a member of the audience querying why he’d programmed a certain play. ‘I don’t go to the theatre to think’, the man said. I told him ‘well, where do you go and I’ll meet you there!” 

“I got into this for the same reason everyone does. And that’s the money,” McColm jokes. “The money and the awards! I’ve been doing theatre for a long time and I’m still waiting for either….” 

When he lost his work visa in his ‘50s and came back here from the States, “I felt a little bit at sea, after 32 years in the U.S.,” McColm says. “Everyone has a story; that’s life…. But I had a hard time finding my footing and starting again from scratch, and proving myself.” He’s had to step up to the question “what relevance do you have now?”  He’s very grateful for the liveliness of theatrical activity here, and for the chance to have a play professionally produced at Shadow. 

The contributions of the Shadow actors and director Hudson count big with him in honing and refining his play, “The cast (led by Julien Arnold as Professor Delancey) is as professional and adept as any I’ve ever worked with in my career!”

PREVIEW

The Wrong People Have Money

Theatre: Shadow

Written by: Reed McColm

Starring: Julien Arnold, Linda Grass, Andrea House, Steven Greenfield, Elena Porter

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: Oct. 20 through Nov. 9

Tickets: 780-434-5564, shadowtheatre.org

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