Hassock Cossack, Billy Goat Experiment Theatre Company, at the Broadway Armory. In Catherine Jarboe’s new play, a Russian woman with two sons makes her fortune in the United States–Omaha, to be specific–after arriving in this country in 1917. Opening a small furniture shop in 1937, she takes as her motto “Sell cheap and tell the truth.” By the late 80s she’s transformed her enterprise into a huge home furnishings emporium. Her sons, not a little resentful at having devoted their lives to the family business, think she should retire. But even though their 96-year-old mother is restricted to a wheelchair, she’s not done yet, opening up a rival operation.
Jarboe might have taken a few liberties with the real-life story of Rose Blumkin. The playwright represents the sons as buffoons, one selfishly calculating and the other wistfully compliant. All auxiliary characters are portrayed by one live actor and an array of shadow puppets. And when the price wars break out, a pair of sofas turn into cannons and an unexpected ally appears in the shape of a tornado. But there’s no reason to doubt that the real Mrs. B. was any less tenacious than Jarboe plays her or that her rise to economic power was not substantially as the Billy Goat Experiment recounts it. Plus they give the story so much drama and humor that the final victory had the audience cheering like children. Who knew capitalism could be so exciting?