Dry Powder

March 18, 2017

What motivates the captains of capitalism? The ones which steer the ship of investment into the economy, under the pretense of growing the economy by virtue of the creation of wealth? Who are these archetypes, in their most essential form? Dry Powder convenes on the central actors in this craft and their day-to-day lives. It is not a mistake to suppose this is their very being on naked display for an audience.
Of course, that would suppose the playwright would be adept at snapshots at that reality few mortals know even exist. The one where weeks in Provence are as routine as happy hours after work. The one where Delta is an unfamiliar airline, so too frequent flyer benefits – in fact flying “commercial” airlines is a humiliation. Indeed, Ms. Burgess is masterful with knowing the cadences of this, we can’t really deem class but, financier personality. Not simply in their professional speech but personal lives; how in fact utterly boring they are. Their only pursuit is not even profit per se but a return on capital invested, until they accumulate enough wealth for themselves to live like their investment fund lavished them with but on their own two feet instead.
But who these people are, and what they do in their leisure, is not the basis of the play. It is more so how these actors respond to crisis, a very universal element to the human condition. Appropriate handling of inconveniences (if we were to call labor strikes and fund withdrawals as such for argument’s sake) is the best judgment on the very nature of that “personality” – that which is owned by nothing else in this world and under the full sovereignty of the will of the personhood. The one positive of the two ridiculously striving pseudo-minions to the spit image Mitt Romney-esque patriarch of the fund is that they have no intentions of cutting and running when things go south at the firm. There isn’t even the thought of retreating that occurs openly between the two striver – though of course being nemeses, they wouldn’t be joining forces anytime soon and plotting an exit strategy. And the one window of opportunity to take a parachute and jump through is turned down by the one named Seth, the man bringing a sweet deal to the table which opportunistically can turn the fund’s fate around.
It is these nuances to the character’s decisions, however, which makes Dry Powder feel unleavened. The full-fledged confidence Seth has in his own analysis of the venture he brings to the table for an investment quickly retreats for inexplicable reasons in the narrative. The conniving female Jenny turns on a dime to become an honest woman to close a deal. To be sure, these oscillations in characters could be understood as symptomatic of sociopathy, that they are whoever they need to be at the most opportune moment. Yet, because of the play’s decision not to paint any clear motivating picture of each of the financiers, to shed light on the reason they act the way they do, a simpler explanation to the inconsistencies is flawed character development, i.e. an inability to successfully develop characters which act authentically to the presented drama that unfolds. With the characters becoming subservient to the narrative, they act more like cogs in a machine than something spontaneously fermented to give an even more intense sampling of this “rarefied” segment of society.
But perhaps returning to the emptiness of their capacity for leisure, that is the point – they are empty bodies mindlessly striving for some material end which is impossible to ever be satisfied and fulfilling? Perhaps that’s why none of them, despite genuine and vast perspicacity, can be anything else? The direction for this installment of Dry Powder would be an inaccurate reading of the script then, as Seth unequivocally demonstrates empathy and legitimately good business ethics to achieve his objectives without exploiting a fellow man. Or again, the direction was proper but the characters’ development could not keep up with the strength of the script fastidiously emulating how these personas talk and act and even think.
Perhaps the biggest gamble here, though not an inaccurate depiction per se, is in using Jenny as a mouthpiece for the supposed consciousness of the contemporary financier. Enjoyably the supporting character Jeff, the entrepreneur that is looking to cash out whilst growing his business, believes the financial world is tawdry now – and Seth even agrees with him. And the play provides a legitimate answer for the reason why, with Jenny explaining in a very brutish and Darwinian manner there will always be people who can’t do Algebra 1 and those that can do multivariable calculus. But that does not infer, as to Jenny’s belief and the play’s conviction, that the world is a zero-sum game.
That may be the successful thought and practice of the financer which leads to financial cataclysms and labor turmoil cultivate by this tilling method, but the interpretation of this very basic fact, that there are differences in physical and intellectual ability across the spectrum of humanity which variegates the accumulation of material goods and wealth, does not imply this fact should be ignored or wished away, or glossed over with political pageantry. Of course, the play, being critical of financiers, doesn’t seek to agree with them on this point, or even show the hope that there are good and decent fund people in the world. Truthfully speaking there are a good many of them, as many of the leading philanthropists in New York are hedge fund billionaires who undoubtedly support humanity more than a lifetime supply of voting.
The script then does not seek to present reality as complex, with interrupting shades of grey, to leave in the mind of the audience a newfound presumption of what a financier is. Perhaps we could be presented with some semblance of their humanity, of their anxiety in trying to achieve so much and to even self-reflect on the point of their endless striving? Instead, as is common for many a Broadway performance, the audience is spoon-fed what they want to believe is true. To elevate judgment and provide a stronger grasp of reality, to change the way one perceives this kind of person, to endow empathy within the audience, would have been a loftier goal than a predictable denigration. Undoubtedly, the two are not mutually exclusive.
Grade: B-


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