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'Dry Powder' - A Corporate Tragedy

Hank Azaria, Claire Danes, and John Krasinski in Dry Powder
(©Joan Marcus)

High-powered financiers slug it out in Sarah Burgess' new play, Dry Powder, which recently opened at the Public Theater. Directed by Thomas Kail and performed to perfection, this new drama proves both timely and fascinating.

Reeling from a public relations nightmare that erupts after his lavish engagement event (it featured the appearance of an elephant) follows a draconian series of layoffs that his firm has instituted for a grocery store chain, Rick (a terrifically edgy Hank Azaria), the head of a private equity firm, attempts to do damage control. He sees the perfect opportunity for turning his image around in a business proposal that one of his partners has proposed. If Rick's firm acquires a small luggage manufacturer in California, and if they can seal the deal while also keeping the company's employees all based in the U.S., well, he—and his company—will cease to look like a corporate vampire.

Theoretically, Rick's quick-witted partner Seth (a charmingly ingratiating John Krasinski) has the deal signed, sealed, and delivered. When the men's fellow partner, the hardnosed and no-nonsense Jenny (played with deadpan dryness by Danes) offers up an alternative to Seth's plan, however, the chances of all parties coming to terms become less certain. Other factors come into play that pit these three, along with the luggage company's hotshot CEO Jeff (a simultaneously laidback and keenly aggressive performance by Sanjit De Silva), against one another.

Burgess has written a high stakes financial thriller and peppered it not only with sharp insights about the world of big business, but also with terrific humor. All four characters, who because of their acerbic tongues, become intriguingly likable, even as their tactics border on repugnant.

Kail's crackling staging of this big bucks cat-and-mouse game unfolds on crisply bright blue platform (scenic design by Rachel Hauck) that's surrounded on four sides by the audience. In a way, watching the characters maneuvers in this manner makes the entire show seem as if it is a battle between four chicly outfitted (costumes by Clint Ramos) 21st century gladiators. Jason Lyons' lighting design expertly helps transition the action and also plays a keen effect in highlighting the smoked glass panels that hang behind the audience and make the entirety of the theater feel as if it has become a corporate boardroom.

The twists and turns Burgess creates as the buyout of the luggage firm nears its endgame help reveal the true natures of each of the participants in the deal, and ultimately, audiences are left with a sense of having watched a contemporary American tragedy unfold.

---- Andy Propst

Dry Powder plays at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street). For more information and tickets, visit: publictheater.org.