The more you think about the dark comedy “Dry Powder,” the darker it gets.
Sarah Burgess’ play, produced by Dark & Stormy Productions, presents as a fast-talking insultfest, with men and women at a private equity firm wheeling, double-dealing and belittling one another. There are similarities to David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” and, indeed, Burgess comes off a bit like a woke Mamet.
Rick (Robert Dorfman) is the honcho of the firm. Jenny (Sara Marsh) and Seth (Alex Galick) are competing for his approval/affection (assuming the latter is a thing he possesses). Jeff (Darrick Mosley) is a less-fast-talking, less-mean smarty-pants with a business they may want to exploit.
Very much a showcase for a talented quartet of actors, “Dry Powder” is largely a series of two- or three-person debates in which most of the best lines go to Rick and Jenny.
Dorfman, recognizing that even a shark needs a modicum of charm to get anything done, plays Rick as oddly bemused, delivering his sarcastic barbs with a musical quality that reminded me of Jeff Goldblum in “Jurassic Park.” Jenny, who proudly proclaims, “I have few beliefs,” is a snide corporate apologist who, at one point, insists, “I am sitting down” when she is standing. It’s an entertaining bit because Marsh delivers the nonsensical line so it’s clear that Jenny isn’t nuts; she’s establishing her privilege to assert that black is white.
The subject of “Dry Powder” is the death of American exceptionalism, and it runs on the idea that financial hotshots don’t have many scruples (the title is slang for the amount of cash the firm has on hand). None of Burgess’ notions is surprising or new, but director Michaela Johnson keeps things moving briskly and has fun with motifs such as the constant changing of neckties between scenes, the men donning them like gladiators sliding into armor.
She has encouraged the actors to say awful things with a lilt, which has the effect of raising the stakes: These characters’ decisions will affect the lives of thousands of working-class people but, chillingly, they make them as blithely as if playing a game of Monopoly.
I’m not sure “Dry Powder” has much to say that Mamet, and movies such as “Wall Street,” “Boiler Room” and “Margin Call,” didn’t get to first. But it is, nevertheless, a play for our times.
At one point, Jenny looks to the east for the future of finance, saying, “China can still offer us the hope of an emerging middle class. That’s not something America can give us anymore.” Ouch. The characters never consider the appalling ramifications of their decisionmaking, but those in the audience who have 401(k)s and jobs and families undoubtedly will.
We’ve grown sadly accustomed to the idea that the people who make Big Decisions in this country don’t care about us. “Dry Powder” goes a bit further, saying it’s not just disinterest the 1% feels for the rest of us — it’s contempt.