“Borrowed Cash” and Their Stolen Songs

Presented by Harvard’s American Repertory Theater
Written by Daniel Jenkins and Melissa van der Schyff
Directed by Gina Rattan

Sept. 13 – Sept. 23, 2018
OBERON – American Repertory Theater
2 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
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Review by Bishop C. Knight

(Cambridge, MA) Borrowed Cash was a band headlined by the two ex-lovers Ann Marie and Harper, who were Brits parading as hillbilly Southerners. Between the ex-spouses, Ann Marie provided the most twanging, crooning Americana songs center stage with eyes closed.  Harper spent most of his time supplying the main keyboard riffs, singing backup harmonies, and blowing a harmonica.  Harper is actually NYC-born actor Daniel H. Jenkins, and Ann Marie the Canadian actress Melissa van der Schyff. Neither are British or Southern, but both did a great job of playing bitter British bandmates who suffered a nasty divorce.

The story line of Ann Marie and Harper being angry ex-spouses was enjoyable, even at tense moments.  For example, Ann Marie shared with the audience how “this song will forever be tied to our wedding and honeymoon in Hawaii,” right before Harper shared his memory of skinny dipping with a maid named Helen.  A monitor above the stage showed photos of an unpleasant honeymoon, Ann Marie sunburned and Harper with another woman. Later in the show, on the same monitor, we watched a mockumentary that started with someone asking Ann Marie and Harper where they’re really from.

Because the characters Ann Marie and Harper were pathological liars, claiming they were American Southerners and adopting Mississippi accents just so that they could score a record deal.  Borrowed Cash brought these shysters together again, or for the first time (the program seemed purposely dubious), in this live concert event featuring revealing documentary footage of the meteoric rise and fall of America’s sweethearts.  Except these two never had any meteoric success. Ann Marie and Harper covered songs by Randy Newman, Lucinda Williams, and other artists — claiming the songs were original compositions.

When I attend a performance as a critic, I’m trying to evaluate if acting was believable, but in this case I quickly say no!  Watching Ann Marie and Harper unconvincingly boast about being huge music stars in fake Mississippi accents was as unbelievable and funny as listening to comedian Matt Berry interview magician Uri Geller about turning Uri’s brother into a dog.  (The BBC took down this hilarious and surreal interview, but I suggest giving it a listen should the program become available again.) To make Ann Marie and Harper’s act even more baffling, the anger at each other as jilted ex-spouses would suddenly feel real.

Most of the time, the actors and backup musicians on stage with them created a relaxed and united mood.  The band made music together easily.  The drummer was so deft with his sticks I hoped to find out his name and visit his website, but this comedy rock band listed following false and absurd names of their bandmates: Jooles Nelson, Mojo MacFarlan, Declan Krishna.  Still, I repeat that it wasn’t an uncomplicated comedy.  When Ann Marie shouted the lyric “Hooker Lady!” at her ex-hubby, the laughter from the crowd noticeably died down.  She even chose the “Hooker Lady” song as her encore piece.

Borrowed Cash has completed its run at American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), but there are other upcoming performances that you should attend.  So grab a pal, reserve a table, and spend an evening enjoying anything from burlesque to Latinx spoken word on the Oberon!

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