By Tulis McCall
If you are a finance person you will be all over this play – because, and I am only guessing, you understand the game through which Dry Powder, now at the Public Theater, escorts us. Sarah Burgess is a terrific writer who knows her characters and her subject matter and who, even better, does not talk down to us. She sets a quick pace from the the get go and never slows down. We are expected to keep up because Burgess, like her characters, has no time to waste on slow pokes.
Rick (Hank Azaria) – Founder and President of KMM Capital Management – is in a pickle. On the day that his company announced that they would be laying off all the employees of a certain grocery store chain they had just bought-out, he threw himself an engagement party that was over the top. The only detail to which we are privy is that that there was an elephant. Rick is careful to clarify: ONE elephant, not two.
The New York Times has run with this and the protests have begun. KMM’s investors are being targeted as well as KMM. Jenny (Claire Danes), a hand picked Founding Partner of KMM, is not impressed with the bad publicity. No one pays attention to the New York Times in the world of finance, and protesting is what unemployed people do. If Jenny has a heart, it is in danger of failure. Seth (John Krasinski), also a hand picked Founding Partner, has not only a heart but a plan. There is a bespoke luggage firm that is on the market for acquisition for a mere $491 million (why not get TWO at that price??).
Jenny believes this to be risky. Even though the company has a bunch of Dry Powder (available cash) at hand they will still need more cash, and the only option is a weasley Chinese businessman. Seth believes it will be a win-win. An American company producing products here in the country. The buy-out will result in more jobs and the grocery store fracas will go away.
Rick is, he reminds them, the ultimate decision maker. He puts these two through their paces like a Caesar orchestrating a little entertainment at the Coliseum. Round and round these three go, pacing, thrusting and parrying. The ideas fly as the temperature rises. What about sending the Landmark Luggage production off-shore? Why not close it and restructure? What about Seth’s word? What about profit?
Enter Jeff (Sanjit De Silva) CEO at Landmark Luggage. He is on a tight wire himself. Overextended financially and in need of a buy-out that will turn Landmark into what he visions. While he and Seth are continuing their delicate negotiations, Jenny is busy running the figures with her analyists (My analysts do not love me. That’s how you know their numbers are real.) and turns the entire proposal ass over teakettle. Burgess strips these survival skills down to their basics so that, while you would like to point a finger, you cannot. Because when you point the finger there are three curled back to point at you.
It is, after all, all about the deal.
And the path to the deal started a long, long time ago. How’s about we begin with the playground. Who will be your friend out there at lunch time in 3rd grade? When you play Red Rover will you be called or a last choice? What if your cousin tells people not to play with you? Who writes the best story in English class? Who always solves the formula in Algebra? And as we grow up who gets the part, the job, the promotion, the Presidency? Who do you have to sleep with to get into wherever it is you seek access?
All of this would work perfectly well did not Ms. Danes seem to be in a different production all together. Who knows if it was an off night, but her lines were robotic (yes the character is but the actor cannot be) and given in a way that made it seem she was merely waiting for the other actors to stop talking so that she could recite her lines. Her costumes were unfortunate as well – ill fitting and clearly uncomfortable. I have been watching Homeland for a few years now and could not see an iota of differfence between her character in that show, Carrie Mathison, and Jenny. A disappointment.
As to the rest, Azari, Krasinski and De Silva give us nuanced and difficult to watch performances. Physical murder is one thing. Emotional blackmail is another. Still they are not enough to overcome the weight of Ms. Danes lack of involvement.
Thomas Kail has followed the script’s lead and done away with any element not essential to the story. He and Rachel Hauck have reconfigured the Martinson in spectacular fashion. All blues and cubes and not touchy feely at all. As a matter of fact, I think the folks who had the best time were the stage hands who got to dress for their parts. Black suits and a little back dress, and they didn’t have to stay for the curtain call.
Credits Written by Sarah Burgess; Directed by Thomas Kail
Cast Hank Azaria as Rick, Claire Danes as Jenny, Sanjit De Silva as Jeff Schrader and John Krasinski as Seth
Set designer: Rachel Hauck, Costume designer: Clint Ramos, Lighting designer: Jason Lyons
Music and sound designer: Lindsay Jones Presented by the Public Theater – Oskar Eustus Artistic Director, Patrick Willingham Executive Director, 425 Lafayette St. 212-260-2400