The take-no-prisoners world of high finance and ruthless business deals has long been a tantalizing subject for artists. From filmmaker Oliver Stone’s 1987 “Wall Street,” with antihero Gordon Gekko spouting “greed is good,” to Damien Lewis’ slick hedge fund mogul Bobby Axelrod in the Showtime series “Billions,” movies and television allow those of us in the 99 percent a glimpse at what makes the 1 percent tick.
Playwright Sarah Burgess takes us onto the high-stakes playing field of a private equity firm in her award-winning 2016 piece, “Dry Powder,” now getting its South Florida premiere at GableStage.
Taut and illuminating, amusing yet unsettling, “Dry Powder” concerns a deal on the table for Manhattan-based KMM Capital Management.
Founder and president Rick (Stephen G. Anthony) is facing a costly public relations problem: On the day that massive layoffs were announced at a grocery store chain acquired by KMM, Rick threw himself a multimillion-dollar engagement party, complete with an elephant as a visual nod to the couple’s getaway digs in Bali. The lousy optics ignited protests and much pushback from KMM’s limited partners.
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Managing director Seth (Alex Alvarez) brings Rick what he thinks will be a great, PR-friendly deal: Acquire Sacramento-based Landmark Luggage, an American business with American workers that has plans to sell custom-made yet affordable luggage online. Seth has negotiated a great price — $491 million — from Landmark CEO Jeff (Robert Strain), and the initial percentage required to make it happen would work with KMM’s available investment capital, also known as “dry powder.”
Seth and Rick get a strong pushback, however, from Jenny (Katherine C. McDonald), KMM’s other managing director. Competitive and pretty much devoid of warmth, Jenny is all about maximizing returns, the human cost be damned. In the case of Landmark, that would involve dumping most of the employees, moving production out of the country and directing the product to an entirely different market.
Under Joseph Adler’s intricately paced direction, against designer Lyle Baskin’s set with its sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline, the four actors play Burgess’ intense game with finesse. They confidently navigate the many twists and turns of the plot, illustrating just how quickly morality can be trumped when a massive amount of money is involved.
Smooth and self-assured, Anthony’s Rick becomes an almost paternal referee between his two brilliant, warring younger associates. Flaunting gender stereotypes, Alvarez’s Seth exudes warmth and persuasive people skills, while McDonald’s Jenny is forever apologizing for her tone-deaf remarks. Strain’s Jeff is the concerned, compassionate CEO for which any worker whose company is about to be taken over would wish. Yet even he can be blinded by dollar signs.
“Dry Powder” is necessarily laced with terms that those not familiar with the vocabulary of its world won’t know. Yet Adler and the actors consistently burrow down to Burgess’ major concern: the real and often painful human cost of making megadeals in a global economy.
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If you go
What: “Dry Powder” by Sarah Burgess
Where: GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through April 23
Cost: $42-$60 (students $15, Friday-Saturday and Sunday matinee excluded)
Information: 305-445-1119 or www.gablestage.org