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Dry Powder: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Sarah Burgess’s lacerating dark comedy, Dry Powder, is set at a boutique private equity firm, but its real subject is equity in a larger, more public sense of the word. KMM Capital Management is beset by protests after orchestrating a deal that resulted in massive layoffs, an image problem compounded by reports of a lavish party thrown by its president, Rick (Hank Azaria), on the day those layoffs were announced. Now he and his fellow founding partners—the personable Seth (John Krasinski) and the piratical Jenny (Claire Danes)—must tread carefully as they try to lock down another potentially lucrative, potentially unpopular deal. In the context of growing economic disparity between the very rich and the rest of America, what counts as fair play?
Seth and Jenny, who loathe each other, in some sense function as the angel and devil on Rick’s shoulder, and Thomas Kail’s intimate, in-the-round production at the Public Theater uses its famous cast to smart effect. Krasinski’s signature affability sets us squarely on Seth’s side at the start—occasional hints of awkwardness in his stage debut may even work to his benefit—and stands in stark contrast to Danes’s satirically icy character. (“Maybe I should take a vacation,” Jenny says. “I’ve always kind of wanted to fly over Antarctica and look out the window.”)
But Dry Powder’s depiction of class and consciousness is more nuanced than it may seem at first. Burgess conveys not just the language of the high-stakes game she depicts—financial jargon is woven nimbly into the snappy dialogue—but also the differing mindsets of its players, including the luggage-company CEO (Sanjot de Silva) whom Seth has been wooing for a leveraged buyout. The play makes sharp points about the power and limitations of protesters, but its focus is on Wall Streeters’ view of themselves. (Jenny’s mirror is the least fogged-up.) In an election year that has seen a ferocious outpouring of anti-oligarchical sentiment, Dry Powder feels extraordinarily timely. It’s a play every oligarch should see, if only in the interest of self-preservation. Its title refers to available capital, not literal gunpowder, but it’s a tacit warning: Money is explosive, and America’s fuse is shortening.—Adam Feldman
Public Theater (Off Broadway). By Sarah Burgess. Directed by Thomas Kail. With John Krasinski, Clare Danes, Hank Azaria. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission.
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