Review: ‘Net Worth’ at The Strand Theater

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The Strand Theater (“The Strand”) opens its Ninth Season with the regional premiere of Net Worth, a funny and touching one-person show by Bari Hochwald. It was The Strand’s first show in its new home in Hamilton, and a great way to start another season of celebrating women’s voices and perspectives.

Bari Hochwald in 'Net Worth.'
Bari Hochwald in ‘Net Worth.’ Photo courtesy of Strand Theater Company.

Net Worth is a play with several levels. On the surface, it is a workshop on personal finances, fictionally sponsored by the Lions Club of Cleveland, OH. The financial planning information is legit; net worth is, in fact, the amount by which assets exceed liabilities. It makes sense that Hochwald not only gets the info in this surface level of the play right, but also makes them easy to understand. Among her many entrepreneurial endeavors, Hochwald has written a financial column and given seminars on money management for creatives.

There’s a lot more going on than sound financial advice, though. Interwoven with the calm, professional workshop presentation are glimpses into Hochwald’s underlying emotional state as well as her memories. Through Hochwald’s portrayals of the characters in her memories, we discover much about her family and history. Through her expressions of the raw emotion beneath the confident seminar presenter, we see a person facing the universal, existential questions we all have. Am I on the right path? Should I follow my heart or play it safe? When I plug my non-financial assets and liabilities into the formula – assets minus liabilities equals net worth – do I come up short? What is my value to the world?

Hochwald switches between the here-and-now financial workshop storyline and her inner, emotional self and memories with military precision. It is impressive to see her not only change topic, but also her complete demeanor, in an instant. In one amusing vignette, Hochwald relates a conversation that required particularly split-second accuracy. She’s remembering a bad first date. Her physicality, voice, and manner when she is recounting her part of the conversation completely change when she is reenacting the man’s part. The man keeps interrupting her, sometimes before she even gets a complete word out. The resulting quick-switch between the two sides of the discussion are very funny, but must feel like mental and physical calisthenics to the actor.

Hochwald has excellent technical support in the smooth execution of all the character transitions in Net Worth. The team of Projections Designer Maya Wildberger, Lighting Designer Lana Riggins, Graphic Designer Sherrionne Brown, and Sound Designer Max Bent worked together to create the theater magic necessary to make Hochwald’s rapid switching between characters easy to follow.

In the financial seminar bits, the light is white and cold; the Power Point presentation sharp and professional. However, when Hochwald exposes the character’s chaotic emotions and insecurities, the lighting takes on colors coordinated with her moods and the projections spill out onto the walls of the theater – sometimes with related images and sometimes with the abstract art of Gerry Hochwald. When she is reliving memories, the light, sounds, and projection set the scene. A lovely tea room, an Italian bar, a fancy restaurant. Stage Manager Aris Hines must have called hundreds of cues during the relatively brief performance. They were all impressively spot-on.

Bari Hochwald in 'Net Worth.'
Bari Hochwald in ‘Net Worth.’ Photo courtesy of Strand Theater Company.

While Bari Hochwald’s one-person show, Net Worth, deals with some of the most profound questions of the human condition – issues of happiness, security, parenthood, responsibility, and personal and creative freedom – it’s never heavy or pedantic.

Net Worth is a funny play that shows off the notable talents of Bari Hochwald and was an excellent choice for The Strand Theater’s first show in their new digs. If you want to see talented actor in a solid play with something to say, be sure to check out Net Worth. It’s a high-value proposition.

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Net Worth plays through October 23, 2016 at The Strand Theater – 5426 Harford Road, in Baltimore MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 874-4917, or purchase them online.

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