Martinson Hall, the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. at Astor P.
Tuesday through Sunday through May 1, $95
Being a Wharton and NYU grad, I had a, well, personal vested interest in seeing Sarah Burgess’s first professionally produced play, Dry Powder, continuing at the Public Theater’s Martinson Hall through May 1. Several decades ago, I dumped a potential career in high finance to work in publishing and the arts, but many of my fellow students and close friends made their way to Wall Street and Park Ave., where they still engage in the art of the deal. (One has even played golf with Donald Trump.) So I wasn’t sure just how much of this show about a private equity firm fighting for its financial life I would be able to take, but fortunately, Burgess has written a smart, tightly constructed play in which nothing is black and white but instead a very specific kind of green — as well as a deep shade of cobalt blue. Hank Azaria stars as Rick, the terse, direct founder of KMM Capital Management. In the midst of a public relations blunder involving an elephant and his impending marriage, Rick is brought a seemingly can’t-miss proposition by one of his two limited partners, Seth (John Krasinski). Seth wants Rick to sign off on a deal to buy the family-owned American company Landmark Luggage while promising Landmark CEO Jeff Schrader (Sanjit De Silva) that KMM will help it grow, rather than move the home base, lay off employees, and eventually flip it. But the offshore-layoff-quick-sale scenario is precisely what Rick’s other limited partner, Jenny (Claire Danes), has figured out could earn KMM more money. While Seth, a married man looking to have children, has developed a friendly relationship with Jeff and seems to care about Landmark’s future, Jenny, a single woman and workaholic with no friends, is all about the bottom line and nothing else; she doesn’t seem to understand personal connections or even the public good. “People can’t relate to me,” she says without a hint of regret. Facing a financial crisis, Rick has some important decisions to make that will affect more than just KMM.
Burgess fills Dry Powder with such financial terms as “leveraged buyouts,” “letters of intent,” “dividend recaps,” “IPOs,” and “dry powder” (industry slang for liquid cash reserves), but the shop talk never overwhelms the narrative, which also avoids drifting into a clear good vs. evil setup. The audience sits on all four sides of Rachel Hauck’s dramatically simple, rectangular, boldly blue stage, a raised platform with a desk and three boxes that serve multiple purposes, moved around between scenes by well-dressed men and women while Lindsay Jones’s music and Jason Lyons’s colorful lighting grab your attention. In a power suit and sporting short-cropped hair, three-time Emmy winner Danes (Homeland, Temple Grandin) is a delight as Jenny, a robotic, cold-hearted financier who doesn’t care that she doesn’t know the name of her chief analyst, who has recently been hospitalized. Danes gives her just the right balance between tough negotiator and comic relief. Krasinski (The Office, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men) plays Seth with a smarmy charm that reveals the character’s claims of trying to benefit society while making money are perhaps not quite as true as he lets on, as he’s too quick to defend the size of his yacht and his score on the GMATs. Five-time Emmy winner Azaria (The Simpsons, Tuesdays with Morrie) imbues Rick with a tortured edge while loving the game. De Silva (War Horse, Awake and Sing!) is sort of an onstage stand-in for the everyday American, having worked hard, made something of himself, but is now on the cusp of something big and facing some hard choices. Director Thomas Kail, on a bit of a roll with Hamilton (as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s earlier Broadway hit, In the Heights), manages to make all ninety-five minutes more than palatable, given that we’re essentially watching one-percenters argue over tens of millions of dollars and the value of American jobs. It’s not an earth-shattering exploration of what makes these people tick, but it doesn’t purport to be anything other than exactly what it is. And it makes me extremely happy that I chose a different career path. (Advance tickets for Dry Powder are sold out, but there is a $20 TodayTix lottery for each performance, and $750 - $1,000 seats are available for the closing week benefit.)