Review – Dry Powder: throws you headfirst into a world of deals and moral qualms

Sara Marsh, Robert Dorfman and Alex Garick in DRY POWDER. Photo by Tom Wallace.

Dry Powder, (Dark & Stormy Productions, through June 29), written by award-winning playwright Sarah Burgess, is a dark comedy set in the flashy high-rises of high finance and private equity. The play does not ease into the dizzying dance of deals that make up the central focus of the play. The intimate setting of the Grainbelt Warehouse theater space provides little breathing room between actors and audience.

This is one of the major strengths of the play. Director Michela Johnson understands that the business of buyouts isn’t pretty. In any other space, the extended periods of sitting/standing and talking between the actors would seem stagnant and stilted. But in reality, you can hardly imagine top CEOs gracefully flitting about their office furniture with highly stylized choreography. Johnson ensures that the audience feels like a fly on the wall, that they are thrust unapologetically into this world.

Dry Powder follows a private equity firm in the midst of a major public relations crisis. Protests and disastrous press seem to follow CEO Rick, played by Robert Dorfman, wherever he goes. At one point, Rick reads something presumably upsetting on his phone and smashes it on the table, only to be told he’ll get a new one in 40 minutes, which leads us to assume that this is not the first, nor the last time that Rick has taken his frustrations out on his phone.

Rick has two right-hand employees, Jenny, played by Sara Marsh and Seth, played by Alex Galick. Even though the two bicker, disagree and trade nasty barbs at a rapid-fire pace, it’s clear that this little trio is a tight family unit built on trust and on piles and piles of money. Seth has been working hard on a deal to buy out a failing luggage company which Jenny sees as a bad bargain. Rick, however, agrees with Seth that the buyout could be a chance to improve the company’s PR problem. Jeff Schrader, played by Darrick Mosely, the not-quite CEO of the luggage company, makes it clear that he wants the deal to go through but only if there are no mass layoffs.

Seth, at first, seems like the “good guy,” the idealist painfully aware of Rick’s image problem. Seth brings the deals, and Jenny finds a way to make them as profitable as possible. Does that make Jenny the “bad guy?” She’s shrewd, callous, cares little for the little man and only wants to ensure that the firm’s investors and partners get the best returns possible. Seth, on the other hand, may seem like the voice of reason in a harsh world, but is Seth truly altruistic or is he simply sick of seeing Rick side with Jenny?

Dry Powder is anchored by Dorfman who perfectly encapsulates everything we imagine a wealthy, hardworking, and perhaps out-of-touch aging CEO to be. Alex Galick is excellent as the young protégé, unwavering in his belief that his way is the right way in every sense of the word. Mosely as Jeff is charismatic and refreshingly optimistic when pitted against Seth, Rick, and Jenny, and lights up every scene he’s in. Sara Marsh is believably every woman forced to play in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. Hardened, maybe, shrewd, sure, but only because it’s obvious she would not be taken seriously any other way.

To see Jenny and Seth as two sides of the same coin, the angel and devil on Rick’s shoulder, does a disservice both to Burgess’ nuanced play and the actors. Dry Powder is not a play about right and wrong. When there are millions on the table, right and wrong are replaced with maximum returns, bonuses, and potential growth. There are no heroes of the play. How can there be heroes in a game where everybody loses?

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