How many elephants can you have at your engagement party without upsetting the public?
Directing Sonorous Road Repertory Company’s inaugural production of Sarah Burgess’ Dry Powder at Raleigh, NC’s Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio, Mark Filiaci opens another chapter in the discussion of Capitalism.
In 1987, Donald Trump’s book Trump: The Art of the Deal spent 48 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, thereby demonstrating that a segment of our population romanticizes capitalism. As if in response, in 1989, Jerry Sterner gave us the play Other People’s Money (which was adapted into a movie directed by Norman Jewison in 1991); and in 1990, Garry Marshall directed the movie Pretty Woman. These latter works offered discussions that pitted the mighty opposites of “ruthless capitalism” and what could be termed as “a more humane approach” against each other.
In 2015, Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency. With Trump’s candidacy dominating the news, Sarah Burgess’ 2016 play was a timely resumption of the dialogue.
In Burgess’ dark comedy, Rick (Dan Oliver) is CEO of KMM Capital Management; and he has a public relations problem. KMM has just taken over a grocery store chain, laying off all of its employees. On the same day, Rick has thrown an extravagant engagement party for himself, a party that included the rental of an elephant (“One, not two,” as Rick repeatedly clarifies).
Okay, maybe there’s only one elephant in the room; but Rick and his two trusted lieutenants find that they must talk about it, because — in response to this disparate pair of events — there has been a New York Times article, there have been widespread protests, and KMM’s investors are not impressed. Can KMM improve their company’s image?
Seth (Chris Hinton) has an idea: KMM could purchase an in-trouble company — “Landmark Luggage” — and pursue a “more humane” course of action, thereby garnering good press while generating a modest cash-flow. Jenny (Michelle Murray Wells), however, has a better idea. She subscribes to the theory of “buy companies; increase their value; then exit.” There is much more money to be made, for instance, if they relocate the company’s plant to Bangladesh. (Never mind that her plan would negate any of the projected good-press progress that Seth’s plan had projected.)
The majority of the action of Dry Powder feels very much like a game of chess (or, perhaps, a fencing match) between Seth and Jenny (with some coaching and egging-on from Rick). While most of it is on a business level, some of the Jenny-Seth rivalry becomes personal. (For example, they do have a spat over which of them had the higher score on the GMAT.)
We will have to confess that we found ourselves struggling with the vocabulary lesson offered by the script. We discerned early on that “dry powder” means “investment capital-on-hand,” and LOI = Letter of Intent. We also learned, along the way — and (sort of) intuited the meaning of — such terms as “liquidation play,” “sell-side banker,” “zero-based budgeting,” “dividend recap” and “disintermediation,” but we felt as though we could have benefited from some sort of preshow glossary — one of those “notes in the program” that most audience members choose not to read and producers often disdain to offer.
The conflict in this play could boil down to the question of which character do you want to judge as “the least wrong”? And we could easily make arguments for condemning all four of the characters. In the final analysis, this show will appeal to two distinctly different segments of the theatergoing populace: those who want to indict the proponents of “ruthless capitalism,” labelling them as “evil,” and those who live in the world of high finance and can see themselves and their colleagues in the characters onstage.
There is, however, a bonus to be found in the subplot of Jenny’s need to provide a commencement address to a college of business. Michelle Wells’ preparation for and delivery of this speech are both (in the context of the play) priceless.
The actors — Chris Hinton, Michelle Wells, and Dan Oliver — create a believably disparate triumvirate, and Allan Maule (as Jeff, the CEO of the luggage company) adds yet another dimension to the mix. These are “normal” people, operating in the world of high-finance, complete with human flaws. While the conflict in the script might lose the interest of many, the performances of these four actors offers a dynamic that can hold everyone’s attention.
Vivian Chang’s set is deceptively simple. Different configurations of the “building blocks” easily transport us from boardroom to airport lounge to college campus and back, and the cast manipulates them skillfully.
Emily Johns’ costumes handily create the differences between the characters — all the way down to Seth’s need to wear a different tie in each scene and Jeff’s more casual look.
We recommend paying attention to the images projected on the back wall of the set.
President Calvin Coolidge stated (nearly a hundred years ago): “The business of America is business.” The business of Dry Powder is to examine the world of business and to encourage us to question and evaluate its realities.
SECOND OPINION: May 12th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Andrea McKerlie Luke: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8969; May 9th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/dry-powder/Event?oid=13452657; and April 28th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article209817894.html.
Sonorous Road Repertory Company presents DRY POWDER at 8 p.m. May 18 and 19, 3 p.m. May 20, 8 p.m. May 21, 8 p.m. May 24-26, and 3 p.m. May 27 at the Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in the The Royal Bakery Building, 3801 Hillsborough St., Suite 113, Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $20 ($16 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or https://www.sonorousroad.com/tickets/.
INFORMATION: 919-803-3798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dry Powder (2016 Off-Broadway drama): https://publictheater.org/en/Tickets/Calendar/PlayDetailsCollection/1516/Dry-Powder/ (official website), https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=5409 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/6144 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.seattlerep.org/Plays/1617/DP/DeeperLook/DP_Playguide.pdf (Seattle Repertory Theatre).
Sarah Burgess (playwright): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/47115 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Mark Filiaci (Durham, NC director): https://www.broadwayworld.com/people/Mark-Filiaci/ (BroadwayWorld.com Broadway and Theatre Credits) and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0276941/ (Internet Movie Database).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.