Encore Michigan

‘Glamway ‘ at Planet Ant trolls the DeVos family

Review March 11, 2020 David Kiley

HAMTRAMCK, Mich.–The well-known pyramid scheme known as Amway is as ripe for lampoon as the Mormon Church (See The Book of Mormon). Enter a sketch-comedy pointy spear aimed at Amway from writer/director Ellen Stachowitcz now playing a run at Planet Ant.

The play tells the story of a lonely, near destitute, but working, twenty-something woman named Tiffany who finds herself wrapped up in a multi-level-marketing (pyramid scheme) operation called Glamway. At Glamway, the product is women’s dresses instead of Amway’s personal care/household cleaners.

Stachowitcz plays the second lead in the play, the Queen of Glamway, who is the ring leader/recruiter who is always on the prowl for new sellers. Her ring of associates includes a former boss, a woman who seems on lithium and keeps going further into debt selling Glamway, a sycophant who seems part feral animal, an often catatonic woman, and Tiffany who works at a gas station convenient store.

Let’s applaud Stachowitz for taking aim at Amway, which has in recent years transformed itself into a different kind of company, shipping product directly to those who then sell to their network of friends. So, now, instead of being a multi-level marketing scheme, it seems to be a direct-selling operation like Avon. It specializes in developing countries that don’t have a great sense of brand-name products…or quality.

Look up Amway on the internet these days and the Wikipedia entry will leave you baffled as to how the company operates now and where. The company has run into regulatory and oversight buzzsaws in the U.S., China, India and other countries. The DeVos family of Michigan (as in Trump Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) made their billions from founding Amway

Stachowitz made some unusual choices in creating the story. She portrays the ring leader as a cross between Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard and Cheri Oteri’s manic/OCD character from her days on Saturday Night Live. She seems way out on the spectrum, compared with her cohorts, save the feral member of the circle. She also introduces a sustained obsession on M&Ms, including a kind of weird Glamway talisman in an M&M suit. That connection was odd, and seemed like a distraction to making a worthwhile comedic point. I’m still trying to sort that out.

The whole show has the feel a quick show imagined by an improv group with 30 minutes to write. That is the style that is the hallmark of Planet Ant. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Others love the rawness.

Glamway is a good start on a subject worth tackling. Clearly, Ms. Stachowitz has a burn to get at this predatory entrepreneurship that many working poor fall for. Ineed, I have known a handful of developmentally disabled and mentally ill people who were targeted by Amway sellers who saw them as easy marks. That tactic was a basic tenet of the Amway recruiters playbook. The story gets at this phenomenon—turning people who are in desperate need of friends to become ATM machines for people engaged in branded usury.

If you have gone through life never having had a friend or acquaintance hit you up to join one of these selling rings of bullshit, consider yourself lucky. And also maybe think twice maybe before attending an event in the DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids. It was built with Amway money.

Glamway is a good taste of how pyramid schemers make their fortunes. But there is a bigger meal that should be developed around the idea.

Week of 3/23/2020

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