Other People’s Money
I was prepared to like Shattered Globe Theatre’s "Other People’s Money," the first offering of the company’s 2013-2014 season. The weather last Sunday afternoon, the day of the press performance and opening, was more than fine. In addition, I am a huge fan of the Theater Wit space, the venue that Shattered Globe now calls home in the first year of its artistic residency. And just this past May, the company produced Rick Clutchey’s one-man performance of Samuel Beckett’s "Krapp’s Last Tape," a one-act play the actor originally performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1958. It knocked my socks off.
Also, I love the ’80s. I am serious. The more hair spray and spandex incorporated into a storyline, the better I feel. And "Other People’s Money" takes place late in the decade of jelly bracelets and Pat Benatar. Press materials neatly describe the plot as delving "into the seedy and deceptive world of business, as a small company faces a hostile takeover at the hands of a ruthless businessman." How very Gordon Gekko, right?
Written by playwright Jerry Sterner, the production is directed by Dennis Zacek, who purports to lend a timeless feel to the material. He is quoted in the press packet describing the work as "up to the minute... We can see the effects of corporate greed trickle into every facet of our lives." And again I thought to myself, "’Trading Places’ meets Occupy Wall Street. What could go wrong?"
It turns out, quite a lot. Despite strong performances from Linda Reiter as Bea Sullivan and Ben Werling as the oddly endearing villain, Lawrence Garfinkle, "Other People’s Money" is an unfocused, boring exercise.
Doug McDade and Joe Wiens star, respectively, as Andrew Jorgenson and William Coles. The two men are offered as the master and apprentice figures running things at New England Wire and Cable, a moderately successful regional company that is presumably the largest employer in town. Slowly but surely (Coles much sooner than Jorgenson), they become aware of a hostile takeover attempt in the form of Big Business New Yorker Garfinkle, buying corporate stock at an alarming clip.
Infused with an unlikely and incongruous bit of sex appeal from Werling, Lawrence Garfinkle is a thinly veiled Donald Trump figure who likes to win even more than he likes money. It’s easy to see why his powerful allure would appeal to Bea Sullivan’s daughter Kate, amateurishly inhabited by Shattered Globe Artistic Associate Abbey Smith.
Kate is a big deal attorney at a major consulting firm and her devoted mother calls upon her to defend her boss and lover of many years, "Jorgi." As played by Reiter, Bea seems well aware that her man is naive and destined to surrender, but much too enamored to do less than go down in flames by his side. It’s a touching performance that could have sung like a bad country song in another actress’ hands.
One of the major flaws of the production, however, is the casting of Smith. She’s just not up to the emotional scenes her character is given to navigate with her complicated mother and layered adversary/paramour. The real problem is the one note facial register, particularly when the script calls for the third wall to be broken. When addressing the audience, it’s like Smith doesn’t see us and is participating in a table reading. I know this may sound harsh but it was a real roadblock to immersing in the story. Smith is young with many years ahead to hone her craft, and I look forward to a time when I’ll be able to remark upon her growth.
I’m sorry to report that McDade and Wiens don’t fare measurably better. McDade delivers Jorgi with a confused fecklessness which seems hollow given the character’s business savvy history. Wiens plays Coles like a listless drone who isn’t sure he means what he’s saying, whether committing to a fight or betraying his mentor.
I wanted so much more. This material seems ripe for tense, complex drama and showy performances. Instead, I felt a sleepiness emanating from the stage that drowsed myself and my companion during parts of both acts.
"Other People’s Money" runs through Oct. 19 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL. For info or tickets, call 773-975-8150, or visit the Shattered Globe Theatre website.
Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman's Press Association, founded in 1885. She's also a part-time freelance writer, award-winning columnist and blogger who lives in the Rogers Park neighborhood of the city with her cat Dino. Keep up with Becky at http://www.beckysarwate.com