Kate Robards Enjoys Her Journey from Poor to Rich
by Gabrielle Myers
In her one-act monologue describing her move from poverty level into the 1%, Kate Robards communicates that money is never just money when you don’t have it. In “Ain’t that Rich,” Robards meditates on how her relationship with money has evolved. Through a riveting, non-stop memoir about her life, Robards takes us to the heart of how money and its real value is often misrepresented in America.
Robards’ wit and searing insights leave us questioning how we value money. What does it mean to be “rich?” Robards uses sophisticated and surprising character changes to populate the stage with fascinating people, all played by her.
She shows that wealth gives us a belief in ourselves that enables us to dream beyond poverty, to imagine beyond mere everyday survival. Robards’ stark depiction of her impoverished life in rural Orange, Texas, demonstrates powerfully the poverty and blind obedience of her early life. Where we are born and how we live either creates severe limits or promises travel and hope.
When Robards acts out her single mother’s struggle to raise her brother and herself, she reveals her Mom’s impossible obstacles—because of lack of money. Robards takes us into the hard reality of her early years in Orange, a small town on the Louisiana-Texas border. People living in that remote town have few expectations of escape or education. Her early hopelessness touches us, deeply.
From the wide-eyed, lost teenage ‘slut,’ who longs to have a room of her own, to the college student with five jobs, we learn that currency connects and separates the social classes people in her small town. She idolizes the lives of faux-rich people in Orange, and looks up to the local funeral home-owning family who have so much more. She envies the local fence building family, even though they are merely middle class. These local folks are the big fish in her small pond.
In “Ain’t that Rich,” Robards realizes that poor people have skewed perceptions of what it means to be “rich.” She uses the word “rich” from the beginning of the show: She looks us right in eyes, and says right out, Kate Robards says, “I am rich.” She shocks us wonderfully with her unaccustomed, bold use of the taboo word.
As Robards details her journey out of poverty, she explains how money allows her, now, access to life-saving services for her alcohol addicted brother. In a powerful enactment of her relationship with her brother, we realize that sometimes the life-arc of two siblings can be as disparate as the difference between five bucks and 1.2 million dollars.
Robards shows, dramatically, that her experience growing up poor and female were very different from her brother’s as an impoverished male—he was given no slack when he made small and insignificant missteps. Money’s real value becomes piercingly clear when she is finally able to save her brother by enrolling him in a successful rehab program that costs lots of, you guessed it, money.
What does money mean? What does it really get us: value in other people’s eyes, value in ourselves, or access to things that can help us and our loved ones live a better life?
This play will leave you thinking about rich vs. poor for days.
“Ain’t That Rich” written & performed by Kate Robards, directed by Keiran King, developed with David Ford, tech by Alexa Almira, at The Marsh, San Francisco, through Saturday, December 2, 2017. Info: themarsh.org
Cast: Kate Robards