Sunday, January 14, 2018

Steel Beam Theatre's "Dry Powder" is a Strong Buy

In the deal-making world of private equity investing, words do most of the work, and the four-member cast of Sarah Burgess' 2016 play Dry Powder does lots of hard work in a single act filled to the margins with fast-paced corporate-speak. Directed by Sean Hargadon, the play opened at the Steel Beam Theatre Friday, January 12th.

From left: Jennifer Reeves-Wilson as Jenny, John Westby as Rick, and Justin Schaller as Seth
 in Dry Powder, directed by Sean Hargadon at the Steel Beam Theatre

John Westby plays Rick, the firm's restless President who's constantly juggling deals, investors, and press coverage. He's a simple man who plays a complicated game very well. His two managers, Jenny (Jennifer Reeves-Wilson) and Seth (Justin Schaller) are more sharply defined. Jenny's decisions are as black-or-white as the numbers printed on her reports; she regards public relations as a mere necessary evil. Seth tempers his profit motives with qualitative principles, recognizing value in loyalty, patriotism and good will.

As a team, their constant verbal sparring over strategies is a three-person industry of its own that thrives on persuasion and competition. Yet as tightly as they are wound, the executives remain almost entirely impersonal toward each other, their employees, their families, even themselves (Rick: "My personal life can't factor in...")

The play revolves around the firm's leveraged buyout of a luggage manufacturer, headed by CEO Jeff (Richard Isemonger), who is quite the opposite: proud and paternal about his employees and their brand. Just like his suitcases, he's concerned about preserving and protecting what he already has: a reputation, a legacy. The main thing his corporate suitors are concerned with is keeping their powder dry, a metaphor for investment capital based on an old solider's maxim.

Richard Isemonger as Jeff (left), with Justin Schaller in Dry Powder.

Scenes set mostly in New York are dense with dialogue, leaving little or no space between lines. The well-prepared cast never faltered, and the limited physical action reminds us that we are looking into a world where looking good and talking smart are the essential qualifications. The script's comedic material was nicely delivered, and the audience laughed best at moments when the characters did a little acting of their own.

As the plot moves from office to restaurant to waiting room, music and video provided effective page-turns, and the stripped-down set was versatile and unobtrusive. The Steel Beam Theatre is comfortable, visually interesting, and there isn't a bad seat in the house. Snacks and beverages are available to sustain you through this 95-minute performance.

There's lots to think about after the play concludes with an interesting and refreshingly personal coda by Jenny. There are no clear victims, villains, heroes or clowns in Dry Powder, just lots of questions, among them "what is the price of a conscience?"

Make your own company valuation, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM or Sundays at 3PM through February 4th. For more information go to