Saturday, April 01, 2017

Sleek production might not be enough

Dry Powder (Jenny Graham)
Dry Powder
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through April 15, 2017

A handsomely mounted and handsomely directed (by Marya Sea Kaminski) and acted production at Seattle Repertory ought to mean that the brisk 95 minute play, Dry Powder, is a no-brainer to put on the calendar. Indeed, it’s even somewhat funny, though it’s about high-flying executives of a company that invests in businesses to make a profit – and only a profit, which may mean taking a company over and gutting its operations and staff and remaking it overseas.

The dialogue is fast-paced, full of economic jargon, enough so that the program gives you language to understand before you watch the play. You learn, if you didn’t know, that “dry powder” is the amount of unspent capital the company has left to invest in another business.

We meet Jenny (Hana Lass) and Seth (MJ Sieber) who are rival executives at a sleek investment company. They are vying for their boss’s favor in how to handle the next acquisition. Jenny doesn’t think it’s at all a good deal, but if it is going to make them a profit, they should buy the company, gut the employees and ship all the operations overseas. Seth has worked this deal for months and has convinced the young CEO that he will save the company by growing it larger into bigger profits.

Rick, their boss, played with both ruthless dispatch and a bit of boyish charm by Shawn Belyea, keeps them both hopping, wondering whose strategy is coming out on top. Seth is still juggling the deal with the apparently altruistic CEO, Jeff (Richard Nguyen Sloniker). Seth thinks that if Rick goes with Jenny’s idea, that Seth’s promises to Jeff will end up stinking of lies.

Playwright Sarah Burgess steeped herself in economic terminology and the ways in which the high-flying “princes of capitalism” do business. The dialogue is convincing and the ideas bandied about are likewise credible and to most of us chilling. Far from being a mystery, while the dialogue and concept seem realistic to those of us who have never been in such a secretive boardroom, it also feels somehow familiar, and perhaps stereotypical.

The set design by Matthew Smucker is gorgeous austerity. There is a razor-edged slightly leaning rectangle that frames the stage, shot through with a sleek channel of lighting along the entire frame. “Executive lighting” is provided by Robert J. Aguilar and a subtle sound design by Matt Starritt completes the tech support.

The floors are beautiful hardwood. Lass’ high heels tap loudly and officiously as she walks. She stalks the stage with the conviction that she spends 18 of 24 hours there.

Sieber seems at a bit of a disadvantage next to Lass and Belyea, partially due to how his character is created – one where Seth actually seems like he believes in the better nature of humans and wants to do business with a higher ideal. We’re meant to like him more.

The pace is fast, and there is a bit of will-he won’t-he about whether the deal will get signed, until that is answered. Lass gets a lot of the fun lines and the biggest laughs, though it’s not especially a comedy. And then, the whole thing is over and we really haven’t learned anything of note.

So, after all the gloss and high-style dialogue is done, we have missed the opportunity for the characters to really change or develop, we haven’t learned anything about high finance we didn’t already know from the movies, and it might not be all that important to put this production on your calendar.

For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.