Theater Review: ‘Dry Powder’

Piercing look at the world of high finance
April 13, 2016 4:15 pm Last Updated: April 13, 2016 4:15 pm

NEW YORK—Say what you want about the one-percenters. For better or worse, they’re the ones who get things done; and in a world where money is power, that’s an important selling point. But when public image comes under attack for those selfsame actions, that’s another story entirely. These factors collide head-on in Sarah Burgess’s comedic drama “Dry Power,” currently at The Public Theater.

Rick (Hank Azaria) is one of the founding members of KMM Capital Management, a company dealing in leveraged buyouts, flipping companies, and/or stripping them apart and selling off the pieces in the name of profit.

DRY POWDER PUBLIC THEATER/MARTINSON HALL 425 LAFAYETTE STREET, NEW YORK  Cast: John Krasinski, Hank Azaria, Claire Danes, Sanjit DiSilva  Director: Thomas Kail
(L–R) Seth (John Krasinski), Rick (Hank Azaria), and Jenny (Claire Danes). Rick likes to hear opposing viewpoints from his KMM Capital Management staff, Seth and Jenny, in “Dry Powder,” written by Sarah Burgess. (Joan Marcus)

Possessed with an acute business sense, Rick seems to lack common sense. He has thrown an extravagant engagement party—complete with an elephant—for himself and his fiancee the same day a supermarket chain under KMM control announces hundreds of layoffs.

This juxtaposition generates reams of negative publicity for the company, as well as a series of protests against him and his investors.

Salvation appears for Rick in the form of Landmark Luggage, a Sacramento-based company looking to expand and needing a new influx of capital.

Rick’s partner Seth (John Krasinski), who brought him the deal, sees this as a win for all concerned. It’s a low buy-in fee (only $491 million). Moreover, Seth has virtually promised Landmark CEO Jeff Schrader (Sanjit De Silva) that KMM would retool the company and keep it in California, thus creating more jobs there. The deal will help offset all of KMM’s recent bad press.

However Seth’s plan is virulently opposed by Jenny (Claire Danes), KMM’s other major player. She is more concerned with what is financially best for the company rather than any so-called human factor. Not trusting Seth’s somewhat rosy projections, especially since the idea entails breaking into the luggage market via online shopping, she reasons things would be much cheaper to move all manufacturing offshore to Mexico or Bangladesh.

‘Dry Powder’ shows the importance of holding on to one’s principles.

“Dry Powder” (a financial term referring to marketable securities that are highly liquid and considered like cash) is a fascinating look at the way deals can be made or discarded at the drop of a dime.

It also shows the importance of holding on to one’s principles. While individuals may not always be able to change the world, they can certainly control what happens in a deal they have a hand in, provided they have the courage to follow it through to the end.  

Performances are strong throughout with each of the actors who play Rick, Jenny, and Seth supporting the playwright’s commentary on the world of high finance.

Krasinski, for example, brings Seth to life with an image of the white-collar working man who has it all: a family, a good job, and pride in the work he does. Indeed, one of the few times Seth and Jeff get into a disagreement is when Jeff disparages Seth’s type of business.

DRY POWDER PUBLIC THEATER/MARTINSON HALL 425 LAFAYETTE STREET, NEW YORK  Cast: John Krasinski, Hank Azaria, Claire Danes, Sanjit DiSilva  Director: Thomas Kail
(L–R) Jeff (Sanjit De Silva) is trying to make a deal with KMM’s representative, Seth (John Krasinski), but will KMM keep its promises? (Joan Marcus)

Danes shows Jenny to be a hard-charging businesswoman one moment—sending one of her team to the hospital for exhaustion—and a deliberate caricature the next. She brilliantly makes the character a sort of emblem of all that’s wrong in her line of work.

Jenny has no personal life whatsoever; she doesn’t care about the company’s public image, forgetting its investors; she also has a complete lack of tact and ends up constantly apologizing to Rick because of it.

At the same time, Jenny is brutally honest. As she tells Jeff, “I may not turn out to be your best friend, but I’ll never mislead you.” She also gets the best laugh lines in the play.

As for Rick, played nicely low-key by Azaria, he carries power like a cloak draped about his shoulders. He’s also always careful to examine every deal he’s involved in from all possible angles. In fact, he hired Seth and Jenny so he could listen to their often differing opinions, and even though both go against his wishes from time to time, he keeps them around for that purpose. Yet there is never any doubt that he is the boss and the one who makes all final decisions.

The character Jenny has no personal life whatsoever.

Taking place in a theater in the round, on a set designed by Rachel Hauck with nothing but blue cubes to serve as the various set pieces, Thomas Kail’s strong direction and the various actors’ spot-on performances allow the show to zip by in no time at all.

Credit must also go to Clint Ramos’s rather sharp-looking costumes, particularly the ones the KMM people wear.

Chock-full of financial speak, “Dry Powder” offers an all-too-clear look at the world of high finance and the unfortunate realities that come with it.

‘Dry Powder’

The Public Theater
425 Lafayette St.
Tickets: 212-967-7555 or PublicTheater.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes (no intermission)
Closes: May 1

Judd Hollander is a member of the Drama Desk and a reviewer for stagebuzz.com