Quick-paced, quick-witted, smartly acted, and deftly directed by Marc Bruni, Long Wharf Theatre breathes new life into Other People’s Money, Jerry Sterner’s tour de force on corporate greed. When it first opened in 1989, when the action takes place, the prophetic play envisioned the Wall Street takeovers that were looming on the horizon.
And we’re right back there now with Bernie Sanders putting the one percent —versus the rest of us—front and center during the recent election cycle, making this “period piece” more significant than ever.
Although a five-person ensemble, the success of the comedic drama relies heavily on the role of Larry “The Liquidator” Garfinkle. And Jordan Lage slithers beautifully into character as the oily, ruthless, donut-obsessed shark in a well-cut suit, who comes in for the kill when he smells the blood of a small Rhode Island steel company’s undervalued stock.
The company—New England Wire and Cable—is owned by Jorge, an old school business owner, who prides himself on making a real product, helping the local economy, and being debt-free. Edward James Hyland captures Jorge’s stubborn resistance to the inevitable future, his denial that his company is becoming obsolete. The polar opposite of Larry, Jorge values human beings and lives by a code of ethics where all Larry sees is the dollar signs and the bottom line and is energized by the sport of cheating people out of their money, although he insists he plays by the rules.
Complicating the plot is Coles, Jorge’s faithful manager, who has been promised by his employer that he will inherit the company when Jorge retires in two years. As Larry keeps buying more stock, forcing the price to go up, Coles is caught in a moral dilemma. Does he stand by Jorge or look out for himself and his family and get in on the game with Larry? Steve Routman conveys his character’s frustration at finding himself between a rock and a hard place, although he could show a little more emotion about the choices his character inevitably makes.
Meanwhile, Bea, Jorge’s fiercely loyal employee, with whom, we discover, he is romantically involved, asks her daughter Kate, a high-powered attorney, to stop Larry from destroying the company. Karen Ziemba’s performance as Bea is heartfelt, although at times, a tad melodramatic, while Liv Rooth as Kate is the spark plug in the production. She’s either sparring with Larry—she loves the game, too—using her feminine wiles to get him to “go away”; is arguing with Jorge about compromising to save the company; or is angrily judging her mother for betraying her father for Jorge.
It all comes to a head at the end, when a meeting is held to let the stockholders decide what will happen to the company. Will they keep their shares or sell them to Larry?
While Jorge’s pleas to the stockholders smacks of the sentimentality of George’s fight with the big banks in It’s a Wonderful Life, when it’s Larry’s turn to speak, he becomes less of the parody he’s played so far. He points out the complexity of what’s at risk and points the finger at politicians and even the community, who are all complicit on some level with allowing these cruel corporate takeovers.
Set designer Lee Savage nicely contrasts the Wire and Cable Company’s earthy wood furniture filled office with its floor-to-ceiling dusty factory windows (handsomely backlit by lighting designer David Lander) with Larry’s ultra-contemporary chrome and black leather Manhattan office.
And some of us recognize the authenticity of Anita Yavich’s 1980s outfits—they’re still hanging in the back of our closets.
Other People’s Money is a very entertaining production, while giving us plenty to think about and relate to both as individuals and as a nation.
Amy J. Barry has been writing about regional theater and the arts for more than 25 years. She is a member of The Connecticut Critics Circle (www.ctcritics.org).
Performances of Other People’s Money continue through Sun., Dec. 18 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. For tickets go online to wwww.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.