Monday, November 25, 2002

Other People's Money (Ensemble)

'OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY' doesn't cash in at Ensemble

In these days of corporate greed, insider trading, Martha Stewart-like stock manipulation, Enron and Adelphia cheating, it is entirely appropriate that Ensemble Theatre chose to present 'OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY.'

Jerry Sterner’s black comedy centers on corporate raider Larry "the Liquidator" Garfinkle, who gobbles up companies faster than the doughnuts he keeps in his office and limo. He is pure predator; a gross troll in a classy suit.

Written in 1989, 'OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY' turns on the conflict between good and evil, David and Goliath. It pits the bad guy Liquidator, who wants to acquire the New England Wire and CableCompany and to plunder its assets and shut it down, against Andrew Jorgensen, the company’s patriarch. It matches small-town business ethics against corporate America’s "Greed Is Good." How do we stave off Larry at the pass? Enter Kate Sullivan, the daughter of Jorgensen’s long time mistress. Kate is an attractive young attorney not above sexual politicking and muckraking. Can she convince Jorgensen that he needs to play the corporate take-over game? In the balance hangs the fate of 1,200 factory workers and the old-fashioned way of doing business.

Will Larry the Liquidator wipe out another nice guy from the landscape of free enterprise? As much as we’d like to think the answer is “no,” the real answer is, “sure.”

If only the production qualities had reached the script’s level. In the hands of the right director and cast, this play would be an audience pleaser. Ensemble’s production never catches fire. Except for Michael Raum portraying Garfinkle in a wonderfully evil, nebbish-not-a-real-nasty guy way, the cast seems to be walking through their performances. They never quite get emotionally involved. The situation is not helped by numerous line glitches, forgotten ideas, static characterizations, and some awkward staging. Everything from the costumes, to the set which doesn’t fit the script’s description, just miss their mark.

Capsule judgement: To be successful Sterner's play requires a black-comic sensibility to fire the plot, Ensemble’s version lacks this. It’s worth attending 'OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY' to see Raum and gobble down a Gilly’s “Not Just Donuts” at intermission. (In the original play Dunkin Donuts was bannered. In Cleveland, it’s Gilly’s which is located in Little Italy which gets the eating honors.) Hopefully, as the rest of the cast gets more comfortable with the material, the production will blossom into a unit that brings full meaning to the play.