Matt Prior (Evan Whitfield) and the 7-Eleven "bangers"

Only in Seattle could you go to the opening of a new play and sit within spitting distance (a gross descriptor—perhaps paper-airplane-tossing distance?) of authors Jess Walter, Jim Lynch, and Garth Stein. While Los Angeles and New York prizes its actors, directors, and reality TV fauxlebrities, the Northwest celebrates its writers. No one does this better than Book-It Repertory Theatre.

Book-It started off strong this season by winning the 2012 Governor’s Arts Award for its ongoing work turning popular and classic literature into dynamic theater. Lynch and Stein have both had their works realized for the stage—Border Songs in 2011 and The Art of Racing in the Rain in 2012, respectively—and now Walter joins the club. This season ends on a high note (pun absolutely intended) with a world-premiere adaptation of Walter’s The Financial Lives of the Poets, a comic novel about a broke ex-newspaper reporter and wannabe poet looking for creative ways to support his family. He finds answers at 7-Eleven.

As down-on-his-luck Matt Prior, actor Evan Whitfield goes looking for a gallon of milk in the middle of the night and comes back with a new set of friends: stoner teens who reintroduce him to the wonders of weed and convenience store burritos. In the haze of sweet bud that’s way better than the stuff he smoked in college, Matt can forget momentarily that he’s unemployed and his industry is on life support; that he blew all his savings trying to launch a fiscal-poetry website, poetfolio.com; that his wife might be cheating on him via text; and that his senile dad now holds court on his couch, looking like a pants-less prophet. In fact, selling marijuana seems like a reasonable business plan. It worked for Nancy Botwin on Weeds, right? Right?

On page, Walter’s haikus and one-liners (“You have fiscal Ebola, Matt”) are legitimately hilarious; on stage, they become lyrical hip-hop, with a crew of stoners acting like a Greek chorus. Credit the rat-a-tat-tat of the script to Myra Platt, Book-It's director and chief translator. Beyond the great material Platt had to work with, The Financial Lives of the Poets takes on emotional heft thanks to a talented core cast of Seattle actors. You see the physical impact of the 2008 economic crisis on the faces of Jennifer Sue Johnson, playing Matt’s wife Lisa, and Todd Jefferson Moore as grandpa Jerry. Those grimaces—the facial twitch of desperation—are familiar.

The Financial Lives of the Poets
Thru June 30, Jones Playhouse (U-District), $23–$45

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