Wegman’s first play is also the first play ever staged at Coalition Theater, and it brings both the expected humor and a depth of human understanding to a story about a Christmas gift exchange gone horribly awry.
At the end of every year, people around the world gather to celebrate the holidays. We eat, we drink, and we try to remain merry even as we drink more in order to make it through family gatherings. And that’s if your family is just the average level of holiday stress. What if your holiday stress was bumped to eleven by finding out you have the winning lottery ticket in a white-elephant gift exchange? What if that stress got bumped yet another notch when your pain-in-the-ass mother-in-law called dibs on the lottery ticket when her turn came?
This is what Victoria Scarf has to sort out in the first ten minutes of the new play, Unbecoming, by Elliot Wegman. When the scratcher Victoria bought ends up being the winner of the $3 million jackpot, the Scarf family is turned on its head as the matriarch, Grandma Margaret, ends up with the winning ticket. Suddenly, funds start leaking from Grandma Margaret’s account, and everyone is a suspect.
Written over the course of a year and a half that included a Christmas break, Unbecoming is not only Wegman’s first play but the first scripted play to be featured at Coalition Theater, traditionally an improv theater.
“The bulk of the writing happened over the course of two weeks while I was in Florida with my girlfriend’s family,” said Wegman. “I had a pretty clear outline of what I was going to do at that point. A sort of manic episode caused by a New Year’s resolution to myself to write a play caused me to finish it just because of the deadline.”
Unbecoming takes place in Burlington, Vermont, the Bernie Sanders capital of the world. While the play makes clear that it does have heavy liberal values, examining those political values is part of the point. Unbecoming plays with the idea of wokeness in our society, and the ways proclaiming political values can become performative and self-congratulatory. Wegman’s play pokes fun at the way even the most liberal of us has problematic issues.
“I essentially wrote a play that takes place in Vermont where people behave badly,” said Wegman. “Once people are put in compromising situations [and money is involved], we’re all just demons.”
That being said, Wegman contends that the play itself is not inherently political. It certainly pokes fun at the idea of overt political correctness on both sides of the political spectrum, and the damage being too far left or too far right can cause. The play doesn’t have a specifically political message, but the implications are there nonetheless, especially since one of the characters is the mayor.
“I would not call my play overly political, but I very deliberately made fun of white leftness,” said Wegman. “That’s definitely something I mean to do with this play, and largely is something I’m making fun of [in] myself and my peers.”
While the characters themselves learn a lot over the course of the play’s events, the biggest learning experience for Wegman is his own as a first-time play director. Most of his takeaways from the production have been less creative in nature than purely logistical — proper scheduling and behind-the-scenes setup, that sort of thing.
Aside from hoping that audiences in general enjoy the show, Wegman really hopes that he can bring in a different audience to the comedy-focused Coalition Theater. Richmond’s traditional theatrical audiences tend to stick with the area’s more traditional theaters: Virginia Repertory Theatre, Firehouse Theatre, and the like. They don’t tend to see shows at Coalition. Wegman hopes that can change.
“I hope they will find we are doing artistically significant things here,” said Wegman. “[This play] has less of a stigma to it than a regular comedy show, and I hope they see what we are doing and come back.”
Elliot Wegman’s Unbecoming has four more shows remaining, taking place tonight through Friday, December 6th starting at 8pm at Coalition Theater, located at 8 W. Broad St. Tickets are $20 and are available at rvacomedy.com.
Top Photo: Rehearsals for Unbecoming, by Ash Griffith