“Dry Powder” at The Alley Theatre
Dry Powder refers to “the amount of capital available for a private equity firm to invest.” In the play by the same name, penned by Sarah Burgess, we meet players in such a firm. According to the program this is the first professional production of the play since its world premiere at The Public Theater in Gotham last year.
In business, be friendly but not familiar.
Alley Theatre regulars Elizabeth Bunch, Jay Sullivan and John Feltch are front and center as members of the firm while Chris Hutchinson plays the regular guy brah, owner of a designer luggage company, who thinks he’s guaranteeing his employees an afterlife. The reality is everything and everybody has a price in Burgess’ acerbic take down of Wall Street attitudes.
The set alternates between the office of CEO Rick (Feltch) that slides with an eloquent slickness from the rear to the front of the stage, and a smaller space that an elevator thrusts up rapidly stage front alternately depicting a bar stool or airport waiting seats. The lighting stares down on the actors with the unfeeling shadowlessness of a world bathed in fluorescent iridescence. Just for the record, the word shadowlessness will not be found in a Scrabble dictionary, but it exists to describe real but hollow atmospheres that the characters of Dry Powder inhabit.
Rick’s junior associates Seth (Sullivan) and Jenny (Bunch) are night and day – he wants to save the company the firm is skewering while she wants to gut the floundering fish. Jeff (Hutchinson) thinks he’s made a quantum leap in the financial continuance of his suitcase company, but the subtext of his dialogue reveals a person who just might want to retire with a nest egg and his wife to his not-really-making-a-profit winery.
Burgess’ words have comic implications like when Seth confides he wants to be rich and retired at 60 only to have Jenny, brandishing her cell phone, ask him to say that again so she can set an alarm on her personal calendar. Also it appears that the firm’s characters never pocket their smart phones, they’re always in their hands. When Rick angrily slams his phone on his desk face down the impact surely has cracked the protective glass. “Get me another,” Rick tells Seth, totally reducing him from an executive to a messenger boy. Seth meekly informs his boss, “It will be here in 40 minutes.”
The more you are familiar with fiduciary jargon the easier Dry Powder is to understand. Not to worry for those who’ve never set foot in this Big Short universe. Burgess has a way of making the back and forth conversation bring out the emotions associated with greed. The intent was always to take a commercial entity of 600-plus employees and reduce the workforce to a dozen or so functionaries, half of them working out of China and whatever other country they unload their assets.
Burgess states her next play will concern lobbyists suggesting her whip crack analysis of the corridors of money is only beginning.
Dry Powder runs through February 12 at the Alley Theatre.