Friday, April 26, 2013

Theater Review: Other People's Money

Edward Kassar and Elizabeth Donnelly. Photo: Anne Hudson
How Small Business Gets Eaten in a Shark Attack
By Lauren Yarger
“Shark-eats-little fish” and “shark-eats-shark” set the stage for the underhanded word of corporate takeovers in Jerry Sterner’s play, Other People’s Money over at Ivoryton Playhouse.

New England Wire and Cable has weathered hard economic times through the decades and owner Andrew Jorgenson (Gary Allan Poe) believes carrying on his father’s business practices of not borrowing and making a few sacrifices (like taking a salary cut) will keep the business strong for its loyal shareholders and the local Rhode Island workers who are the backbone of the antiquated company. He also trusts President William Coles (Dennis Fox) who is busy increasing revenues of the corporation’s other, more profitable holdings, which are subsidizing New England Wire and Cable.

Coles’ profits and no debt make the corporation very desirable, however, to Wall Street financier Lawrence Garfinkle (Edward Kassar), who starts to buy up stock. Concerned, Coles warns his boss to take steps to protect the corporation from takeover by “Larry the Liquidator” or the stories “Jorgy” likes to take up his time telling about the grand old days soon will be memories of a company that no longer exists.

When Jorgy and his loyal assistant, Bea Sullivan (Denise Walker) refuse to believe there is any danger, Coles goes to Garfinkle to ask him to postpone his efforts to take over the company until he can secure his own future. After all, Jorgy had promised Coles that he would be his successor, and if Garfinkle’s takeover is successful, there won’t be a company to run. 

Garfinkle is only interested in where his next dollar or donut is coming from, however, and continues to buy up stock until he’s challenged by New England Wire & Cable’s secret weapon – Bea’s daughter, Kate (Elizabeth Donnell), a high-powered Wall Street attorney who agrees to take to take the case despite the hurt and resentment she still fees toward Jorgy and her mother, for their love affair which broke up her childhood home.

Smart, quick-witted Kate is not intimidated by Garfinkle and he finds that exciting – that and the fact that the repulsive sexist finds anything in a skirt exciting (Kari Crowther designs the 1990-era fashions). Inexplicably, Kate finds the heavyset, donut-eating, sex talking Garfinkle funny and attractive, and soon the two sharks are swimming in an ocean charged with sexual tension to see who will be the winner and take it all. Caught in the tide, however, is Jorgy, who has to decide whether to buy off Garfinkle or trust that his shareholders will remain loyal to the company and vote for him to continue as owner.

Sterner’s “insider” look into the word of corporate takeovers is interesting, but lacks structure for the stage. Not much happens outside of the negotiations because characters aren’t fully developed. There’s an attempt at backstory, but we simply don’t know these people well enough to understand their motivations or care about them. There is absolutely no reason for Kate to like Garfinkle, for example.

“The man has a certain undeniable charm,” she tells us. We don’t see it, however, and it isn’t believable when she takes him at his word during the negotiations or that she is OK with his sexual remarks. There also is very little evidence that Bea and Jorgy are in love or why she would be willing to give up her marriage, alienate her daughter and offer up her life savings for a guy who seems pretty oblivious to her.

Some direction is particularly noteworthy. When they aren’t speaking directly to each other, characters often are talking to the audience or commenting on other conversations taking place and Director Maggie McGlone Jennings pulls it all together neatly. A phone conversation between Kate and Garfinkle without use of a phone is particularly clever. William Russell Stark's set design and Marcus Abbott's set and lighting design help to separate the elements for us.

Kassar is miscast as the greedy shark, however and Garfinkle’s crudeness doesn’t seem natural. There also isn’t any chemistry between him and Donnelly. The pace of the play (at two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission) also feels very long and draggy. By the time Jorgy addresses the stockholders at New England Wire and Cable's 73rd annual meeting showdown, we’re a little too zoned to appreciate his passionate plea to keep the company intact. His dialogue contains the play’s most thought-provoking lines about the state of our nation’s economy and where it will end up if the only product it creates are lawyers.

Other People's Money runs through May 5 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 100 Main St. Performances are
Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children 860-767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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