Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: (Winnipeg) Other People's Money

Ashley Wright and Julia Arkos. Photo by Bruce Monk.

Money for Nothing
Once you have Other People's Money, you never give it back.
by Edgar Governo

Most of the time, you don't think too much about your investments, if you're lucky enough to have them in the first place. You're content to put some money aside in bonds or mutual funds or some other financial instrument, and although you care in an abstract sense about things like the environment or income inequality, you're not looking too closely at your statements to see where your money goes.

Simply not thinking about the consequences should make it easy to watch the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production of Other People's Money and believe that a go-go 80's Reaganaut like its central character, Lawrence Garfinkle (Ashley Wright), is nothing like you, but Garfinkle himself knows better. Dubbed "Larry the Liquidator," he is the Kevin O'Leary of his day; unapologetic in his pursuit of money, agreeing with Wall Street's Gordon Gekko that greed is good and living by the credo that profit is its own reward. Other People's Money is set in 1987, the same year the movie Wall Street was released, and much like that film, the line between good guys and bad guys blurs as every character begins to employ the same underhanded schemes to accomplish their own agendas.

Despite being over 25 years old, Other People's Money feels extremely topical.

The production design of this show reflects the ways in which each side parallels the other. Using the same rotating stage seen at the beginning of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre season in A Few Good Men, the action switches back and forth between the Rhode Island office where Andrew Jorgenson (Harry Nelken) has run New England Wire and Cable for decades and the New York office (complete with a miniature version of the famous Charging Bull sculpture) where Garfinkle plots to purchase enough shares for a controlling interest in that company. More than just a clever way for director Ann Hodges to smoothly transition between settings with a quick change of lighting and a 180-degree turn, this setup shows how rustic New England charm and the cold glass and steel of Manhattan are never really that far apart.

The personal bridge between these two worlds is Kate Sullivan (Julia Arkos), the daughter of Jorgenson's loyal assistant Bea (Terri Cherniack), who left her hometown to become a high-powered New York lawyer herself but nevertheless agrees to help protect New England Wire and Cable as a favour to her mother. Arkos plays the role with enough passion to be convincing as such an ambitious character, though a subplot involving Garfinkle's efforts to seduce her falls flat because of a lack of sexual chemistry between her and Wright, both excellent actors who are believable as rivals but not as potential lovers. While company manager William Coles (Paul Essiembre, also seen in A Few Good Men earlier this season) starts out as a loyal employee as well, he too starts to succumb to the lure of dollar signs when his own future is at stake.

Playwright Jerry Sterner draws you in with a sympathetic portrayal of this modest New England company that just wants to keep its factory open and its workers employed, but when things come to a head at the shareholders' meeting for New England Wire and Cable, the play almost becomes a courtroom drama as these two takes on capitalism are pitted against each other. The most powerful and unsettling moments come because Garfinkle is unafraid to make it clear that for all the stated concerns from Jorgenson's camp about those unseen employees doing most of the working and paying and living and dying in their community, the shareholders in the room with him want to maximize their earnings just as much as he does.

Despite being over 25 years old, Other People's Money feels extremely topical. Mitt Romney was a corporate raider just like Larry the Liquidator during the same era, but that didn't make him so reviled that he couldn't run for President of the United States just last year. When Facebook can edge out one of its co-founders through stock dilution and today's headlines are filled with stories of the 1% moving money around the world through shady financial manoeuvres, it seems like the rules of acquisition are still the same for any investor. Only the players and the details have shifted over the years, as Larry tells Kate: "All they can do is change the rules. They can't stop the game." Satisfaction is not guaranteed, but even in the worst of times, someone turns a profit.

Other People's Money runs to May 11.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.