Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Play: Wet Squib

Dry Powder by Sarah Burgess, Directed by Marya Sea Kaminski, Seattle Rep through April 15th, 2017

So. Yeah. I'm going to hit a bump in our plays every so often. You sign up for a season ticket with the acknowledgement that not every play is going to be to your particular taste. And sometimes (hell, often), you come out feeling that, even if the subject didn't appeal to you or the acting was weak or the plot needed some punching up, you've gotten something out of it.

Not this time. Not only do I resent the hour and half in the theater. I resent the time it took to commute there up and back in deary Seattle weather. I resent the price of my parking spot. Heck, I'd even resent the gas money if my car didn't run on house current.

Dry Powder is about high finance, a great subject, particularly in these days of Occupy America. Rick (Shawn Belyea) runs a private equity firm with the cold, calculating Jenny (Hana Lass) and the glad-handing, deal-making Seth (MJ Seiber) as the angels/devils/employees on his shoulders. The company has taken on some serious bad PR and protests from the fact that they bought out a supermarket chain and gutted it. Now they have the chance to redeem themselves with the purchase of an American-made suitcase firm in Sacramento. The founder of said luggage firm  is looking to sell out, and its CEO Jeff (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) is looking to revitalize the company with fresh cash flow and an eventual IPO.  Seth has put together a deal which risks an on-line presence but keeps the company intact. Jenny advocates a massive work-force cut and offshoring production.

And from that description you'd think the Rick was the central character, but he quickly fades as he slips from one side of the argument, then the other. Actually, it is Seth's story, as he tries to preserve the deal he made against his own supposed allies. And it is not much of a story, really, and despite its relatively tight running time, it feels like it goes on too long to get the simple conclusion: Rich People suck.

And wealth carves the deep chasm between the principles and the little people who suffer for their actions, as well as a gulf between the actors and the audience. Rick is primarily concerned that the continual protests make him look bad on the eve of his wedding in Bali (his engagement party got bad press by springing for an elephant while they were cashiering cashiers). Seth has yacht. Jenny refuses to take cabs. Jeff has the corporate jet and the struggling personal winery. There's not of lot of empathy between the characters and us, even though Rick is getting married and Seth has a kid on the way. These are the wealthy, and they are not very interesting. They are cartoons in a cartoon graveyard.

I want to like Seth or Rick, but they are both blatantly sexist and uncaring. Seth get the most potential depth where his loyalty is tested, but there is no real risk for him. Rick is the kind of boss who is firm in his beliefs until he changes his mind and then expects all to follow.  Jenny is an office Randite, quite frankly, without a single redeemable feature as she drives one of her analysts into rehab without even remembering his name. Jenny in particularly offends me deeply, since she is a character bled of anything resembling humanity. The rivals/frenemy relationship between her and Seth falls flat, and I can't ever see the two working at the same office for longer than two months. And CEO Jeff? He's a speed bump, needed for the plot and resolution.

Here's where I normally pump up the actors who are laboring with a bad script, but I can't do it. Lass delivers a Jenny that feels like Sheldon from the Big Bang, but with less self-reflection - and when she allows some passion, she scrunches her nose like a bunny. Belyea has to change his mind as Rick continually and still sound like a leader - in fact, he's often verbally abusive to both. His thought process and emotions are lost to us as he pivots. Sloniker as Seth doesn't seem to extend the warmth he feels with Jeff to either his boss or co-worker. I don't even see the actors struggling with this - they know where they are going, and deliver it with the passion of an accounting review. These aren't characters so much as talking points, and I think the actors have tweaked to that. I'm not believing that these guys, despite the jargon, actually know anything about business.

OK, we're down to praising the set, which has the Seattle Rep standard of desks and bars and chairs flying in from the sides to show progress. The cool thing is that everything is askew, presented in trapezoids, which creates a feeling of uncertainty and being off-balance. Qualities that the play itself did not have.

I will pause from all this foaming at the mouth to say the Lovely Bride actually liked it - or at least was not as deeply offended by the facile nature of the characters and the tediousness of the plot. We talked about plays about business that feature terrible people (I like Glengarry Glen Ross, for example, she does not, and I felt The Comparables from last season was better than this, while she disagrees). She is a bit more accepting of the cynical nature of people, and points out that play has some value if it provoked such a strong negative reaction from me. So there's that.

The robotic Jenny' gets the last line of the play - "That's all I have". That  pretty much sums up the play, and this review. Rich People suck. That's all I have.

More later.