Hot on the heels of the unlikely Hollywood hit The Big Short comes another Wall Street-centric story that would make Bernie Sanders choke on his stump speech: Sarah Burgess’ Dry Powder — premiering at Off Broadway’s Public Theater — is a curiously fascinating behind-the-numbers peek inside a New York private equity firm.
You don’t have to work at a big bank to get sucked into Burgess’ story. In fact, it’s probably more intriguing if you have nothing to do with finance. Has your company ever been purchased by a major-moneybags investment group? Were you told the massive infusion of cash would only help grow the brand, assured that nothing would change, and that you should simply go about your day-to-day business as usual? Did you then start to see cost-cutting measures: older, experienced workers laid off, only to be replaced by younger, cheaper facsimiles; office closures; production outsourcing? Finally, did you watch as your longtime co-workers — and perhaps you yourself — were given their walking papers? Dry Powder shows you the people pulling the strings, and their bottom-line-driven motivation.
KMM Capital Management founder and president Rick (Hank Azaria) is going through a bit of a PR crisis, having thrown himself a wildly extravagant engagement party — there was an elephant — the same day his firm announced a series of massive layoffs at ShopGreat. Enter founding partner Seth (The Office alum John Krasinski, in a remarkably assured theatrical debut) with a “slam-dunk” deal: Landmark Luggage, an American family business, for sale at the bargain-basement price of $491 million — plus a plan to create jobs in the United States and transform the company into, as fellow founding partner Jenny (Homeland star and stage vet Claire Danes, bad-ass and brilliant) snipes, “the online Samsonite.” Jenny’s preference, however, would be to essentially strip down Landmark and sell off its parts. While Seth’s idealism clashes with Jenny’s pragmatism, Burgess brings in Jeff (Sanjit De Silva), the wide-eyed CEO of Landmark, sneakily putting a face to the talk of offshoring, cost efficiencies, and invested capital.
All of this is somehow tidily crammed into a nimble 105 minutes and a small monochromatic indigo-hued stage populated by only multifunction stools and tables. (The super-slick direction is courtesy of Thomas Kail, of Hamilton and Fox’s Grease: Live!) The denouement is, unfortunately, all too predictable — you don’t need a Harvard MBA to deduce where Landmark Luggage is headed — but that’s no fault of Burgess’. It’s simply America in 2016. And it’s depressing as all heck. A-