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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dry Powder

Here's what I liked about Dry Power, Sarah Burgess's predictable, unimaginative, and lame incitement of high finance, currently playing at the Public Theater: the women in the crew wore black cocktail dresses when they moved the (unimpressive, ugly) scenery.

Azaria, Danes, Krasinski
Photo: Joan Marcus
To call Dry Powder one-dimensional would be to compliment it. Jenny (Claire Danes) and Seth (John Krasinski) each want their boss Rick (Hank Azaria) to choose their ideas; they compete, nastily, on both a professional and personal level. They are all three bottom-line people, except that Seth has a conscience and wants to do something good. It's not clear if Seth always had a conscience (in which case how did he get where he is?) or just grew one (in which case it would be nice to know how and why). But ultimately it doesn't matter; little he says sounds like a real person speaking. Jenny has no conscience, no heart, no morals; she is a human made of numbers and dollar signs. Nothing she says sounds like a real person speaking.

Enter Jeff (Sanjit De Silva), CEO of a luggage company that wants to add a bespoke line. He is looking for a buyer for his company. Rick, Jenny, and Seth are looking to buy. But each has a different goal for the purchase, and therein lies the teeny-tiny plot. Rick wants to make money, but he is also worried about his image. The papers have been full of coverage of his insanely expensive engagement party, which happened to occur the same day one of his companies laid off thousands of people. Bad optics, you know? Jenny just wants to make the most money possible, no matter how it affects other people. And Seth wants the deal to make money but also wants the luggage company to retain all of its employees in the US.

So they argue and they jockey and they make stupid pointless remarks to set up stupider, pointless-er "jokes." Rick complains that the coverage of his engagement part keeps referring to "elephants" when there was only one elephant. Jenny suggests that maybe there was a mirror. Tee. Hee. Much of the "humor" focuses on Jenny's robotic cluelessness; to call her a cartoon character would insult cartoon characters.

So, ok, the writing is really lame. But what about the direction and acting?

That Thomas Kail directed Dry Powder so badly is astonishing. It takes place in the round (well, in the rectangle), and you can't see people for really long periods of time. In Jeff's first scene, a fairly long conversation with Seth, I did not see his face once. Not once. Later on, Jenny gives a speech and an entire chunk of the audience barely gets glimpses of her. His direction of the acting is not much better, because he allows the cast--or asks them--to give simplistic uninteresting performances. This is the man who directed Hamilton!*

De Silva comes out best of the actors, possibly because he has the only three-dimensional role. Azaria does what he needs to do but nothing more. Krasinski tries, perhaps too hard. And Danes. Oy. I hate to write something mean about Claire Danes. I consider her one of the best actresses alive. I think her depiction of Temple Grandin in the HBO movie of the same name is astonishing. But she is truly awful in this play, mugging her way through in a nuance-free performance. In her defense, the character is badly written. In her un-defense, she did choose to take the role.

I admire the Public Theater tremendously, and I like that they have a political stance--one, as it happens, I share. But a play having a particular point of view is not enough. It also needs, oh, subtlety, insight, and something resembling three-dimensional characters. An interesting plot wouldn't hurt either.

*I previously wrote that Kail directed Fun Home, but I was reminded that it was Sam Gold. Apologies.

Wendy Caster
(2nd row; taken by a friend who had free tickets. I shudder to contemplate what I would have thought of the play if I had paid the full price of $95.)

4 comments:

msdworks said...

I'm thrilled, as a subscriber to the Public, I chose not to buy a ticket to this show. Hurray. thanks for the insights.

Wendy Caster said...

Thanks for your comment. Interestingly, it got some very good reviews!

Broadway & Me said...

I largely (if belatedly) agree with your assessment. But, just for the record, Thomas Kail didn't directed Fun Home; Sam Gold did and won a Tony for doing so.

Wendy Caster said...

Thank you, Broadway & Me. Someone actually beat you to correcting me, but I still very much appreciate your bothering to take the time! Wendy