by Nicole Singley
David and Goliath. Good versus evil. The haves and the have-nots. There’s an age-old battle being waged behind closed doors in patent leather-adorned offices across America, and it’s a war the working class has been losing for decades. Left Edge Theatre’s production of Dry Powder grants audiences an insider’s view of the greedy backroom deals chiseling away at the American Dream. Experience the dramedy and allure of high finance up close at The California through March 26th.
The show opens on suit-clad Rick (Mike Schaeffer), president of a private equity firm in peril, furiously flipping through his phone to the soundtrack of angry protestors crying out in the distance. It’s not a great day at the office. As luck would have it, throwing a lavish engagement party on the same day you’ve announced massive layoffs at a business you’ve bought out is not the most popular move. In fact, it’s an outright PR nightmare, threatening to scare away all the firm’s key investors. (Was the elephant too much?)
Enter Seth (Michael Girts) to the rescue. He’s been in conversations with Jeff (Mark Bradbury), the affable CEO of a struggling family-owned luggage manufacturer willing to sell at a price Rick can’t resist, so long as the company’s values and employees are protected. What’s more, Seth asserts, is it’s the perfect opportunity to redeem the firm’s image by investing in the growth of an all-American company. They can do the right thing, he argues, and still turn a sizable profit.
But Seth’s unscrupulous colleague Jenny (Gillian Eichenberger) is not impressed. Her analysts have crunched the numbers, and a slightly higher profit can be made if they strip and liquidate the company or lay workers off and move production overseas.
She’s not concerned with betraying Jeff’s trust or earning more bad press, insisting the backlash will soon blow over. “Of course they’re protesting. That’s what unemployed people do,” she sneers. The bottom line is all that matters in this game.
…High-stakes ethical and strategic dilemmas loom large as risks are assessed and negotiations begin…
Under Jenny Hollingworth’s direction, Dry Powder is more drama than comedy, though Eichenberg’s Jenny earns a good amount of laughs with her wide-eyed indignation and ice-cold, quick-fire jabs. She’s the perfect caricature of sociopathic greed, counterbalanced effectively by Girts’s Seth, who appears to be the only member of the firm who may possess a conscience. Their near-constant sniping provides much of the entertainment, and helps redeem a rather dense script that’s heavily steeped in mind-numbing business speak.
Schaeffer’s slick, quick-tempered Rick is – pun intended – right on the money, equal parts fire and serpentine charm. His presence on stage is commanding and his energy unwavering. It’s easy to forget that he is, indeed, acting. On the other side of the coin, Bradbury’s Jeff is endearingly earnest and likable, the seeming proverbial lamb being fed to the wolves on Wall Street.
It’s a commendable ensemble effort from a well-balanced cast, who are each as solid in their scenes together as they are in their individual roles. Despite a few quickly-recovered stumblings over lines and minor audio level mishaps, it’s a well polished production, with effective lighting (April George) and smartly chosen wardrobe (Tracy Hinman). A small but readily visible tattoo on a cast-member’s foot felt out of keeping with the character, and might have been easily covered.
As prior patrons may know, Left Edge Theatre relocated last fall from their humble, 72-seat space at the Luther Burbank Center to a larger downtown venue. Though The California is an upgrade in manifold ways – among them more space, a full bar, and food available for purchase from trendy local restaurants – it comes at the expense of the intimacy afforded by the smaller, better insulated venue. Opening night’s performance was disturbed by booming bass from a neighboring business. Fortunately, the actors were all miked and audible, and the distraction became easier to ignore as the show went on.
Hollingworth’s decision to stage this production in the round restores some of the intimacy lost in the larger space by bringing audiences closer to the action. Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of visibility, with uncomfortably long periods of time spent staring at some of the actors’ backs and missing out on their facial expressions. It’s still largely effective, but the staging didn’t entirely work for this reviewer.
Dry Powder is a cleverly written and scathing exposé of truths already known, but it’s a journey worth taking all the same. This is especially so at Left Edge, thanks to a production that is crisply paced, impeccably cast, and superbly acted all around.
Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.
|Left Edge Theatre Co.
|Thru Mar 26th
528 7th St.
Santa Rosa, CA
|Max in each category is 5/5
|Aisle Seat Review Pick?