By: Iris Wiener
Dry Powder may have been written in the English language, but the first thirty minutes might as well have been written in another language; this is how long it takes for the average ear to acquiesce to the financial jargon that pervades Sarah Burgess’ new play. However, once audiences are settled in for a ride on this money train of cynicism, morality and humor, the piece is as timely and poignant as it is funny.
The play centers on the CEO (Hank Azaria) of KMM Management, a private equity firm, who is considering the buyout of Landmark, a small American luggage company. Two of his junior associates (Claire Danes and John Krasinski) are at odds over the most beneficial plan of action. Azaria’s Rick, who is as shady as he is thick-headed, is suffering through a bad bout with the press, having lavishly celebrated his engagement on the same day that his company announced significant layoffs. Investors are pulling out as quickly as Rick can say “liquidation.”
Krasinski’s Seth acts as Rick’s conscience, and as such comes up with a workable solution for the company’s public relations catastrophe and its ailing business. Conversely, Claire Danes’ Jenny provides a foil for Seth’s endearing naivete and morality. Between her severe haircut, power dresses, and mechanized steeliness, her inherent disregard for outcomes unassociated with numbers is alarmingly realistic in its lack of compassion. Sanjit De Silva rounds out the cast as Jeff, the CEO of Landmark, imbibing the play with what seems to be integrity and pragmatism.
The characters are outlined quickly, thanks in part to the actors’ intelligence, and the intricate direction of Hamilton’s Thomas Kail. Danes’ snappy retorts and frenetic arguments are perfectly brought up against Krasinski’s more comfortable banter. Despite his character’s obvious wealth and leisure, Krasinski’s muted charm is delightful. Azaria plays up Rick’s tricky persona with ease, keeping his audience guessing as to whether or not they should hate him or sympathize with him. De Silva is also startlingly meticulous and accessible in what is the most interesting role in the play.
Surprisingly, the biggest flaw in Dry Powder lies in its direction. After constructing the brilliant intricacies of Hamilton and the enormous showboat that was FOX’s Grease Live!, Thomas Kail’s choice to take on a four-character, off Broadway play is intriguing, but his execution in doing it is flimsy, most markedly in the fact that it is performed in the round. Because Dry Powder lacks all of the bells and whistles involved in multiple sets and costume changes, it relies heavily on its actors and their delivery. Long stretches of time go by in which at least twenty-five percent of the audience cannot see the actors emote. If one happens to be on a particular side of the theater, he or she won’t get to see De Silva’s face until his second scene- his back is to a portion of the audience throughout the entire establishment of his character. Though segways between scenes are magnetic (walls of the theater flash in blues and reds due to Jason Lyons’ lighting design, while Lindsay Jones’ design of frenetic, techno music swarms), the staging is distracting as it excludes sections of its audience.
Burgess shows great skill at constructing an engaging piece with importance and humor. Though the financial terminology may be off-putting and enveloping at times, it becomes secondary to the underlying questions pervading the play. While addressing Seth, Jeff poses the query, “When people ask you how you feel about what you do for a living, how do you feel about your answer?” Nuggets like this leave characters and audiences alike deciphering the realities of their own choices.
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