A Seductive Revival: Long Wharf Theatre’s “Other People’s Money”
By Brooks Appelbaum
Jerry Sterner’s 1989 play, “Other People’s Money: The Ultimate Seduction,” is getting a razor-sharp revival at Long Wharf Theatre through December 18th. Under the brilliant direction of Marc Bruni, the production feels urgent, new, and stylish, with just the right mixture of crackling humor, clashing ideas and ideals, and wicked insights into the mind of its fascinating anti-hero, Lawrence Garfinkle, AKA “Larry the Liquidator.”
Sterner’s tale centers on Garfinkle’s determination to acquire the family-run New England Wire and Cable Company in a hostile take-over. The play ostensibly pits greed against honor, money’s seduction against small town values, and slick operating against stubborn pride. However, Bruni has made sure that these concepts become slippery, blurring the line between the good guys and the bad guys. His first smart move is to cast Jordan Lage as Garfinkle. Despite Garfinkle’s obsession with donuts, and the script’s description of him as “obese,” Lage is as slim, sharp, and graceful as they come; his physicality forces us to revise the script’s somewhat easy equating of gluttony and avarice. In addition, Lage, as a founding member of Mamet’s Atlantic Theater Company and an expert Mamet actor, brings more than a hint of Mamet’s unsettling complexity to the role.
Opposing Garfinkle is Jorgenson, the elderly chairman of New England Wire and Cable, whose father opened the business seventy-eight years ago. Here, too, the casting is superb: Edward James Hyland imbues Jorgenson with concern for his employees and for his town, and with pride in running a debt-free -- if not always booming -- business while avoiding the cliche of the loveable meat-and potatoes guy. Hyland’s performance highlights Jorgenson’s harsh edges and blind spots, forcing us to think harder about whether his stance is right.
Despite his loathing of lawyers, Jorgenson agrees to hire the high-powered daughter of his loyal receptionist (a terrific Karen Ziemba) to fight Garfinkle’s take-over. And here is another example of expert casting: Liv Rooth is not only a blond, long-stemmed beauty who lives up to every salacious compliment Garfinkle lobs her way, but she and Lage have crackling sexual chemistry. Kate and Garfinkle are both glittering sharks, and sharks draw blood. Their scenes have the pacing and edge of screwball comedy, with the extra frisson of danger.
As Coles, the company’s president, Steve Routman gives us a complex study in desperation driven by fear, entitlement, and a Cassandra-like understanding of what’s to come. He is a perfect framing device for the play, beginning and ending the action with monologues that convey the resigned bitterness of one who could have, in other circumstances, transformed the plot of the story he is forced to tell.
A truism about theater claims that good directing is invisible. While this is accurate the great majority of the time, occasionally, as in Bruni’s case, the directing choices themselves account for much of the evening’s pleasure. For example, Bruni and Set Designer Lee Savage have created a set that beautifully underlines character and plot. The Wire and Cable Company meeting and working area occupies the entire stage, and the back wall, which shows us the dilapidated front of the industrial building, makes it clear that the company is synonymous with the town.
Garfinkle’s slick black office slides into this space from offstage: an obviously aggressive invasion that has a subtle sexual undertone. When Kate meets Larry here, we sense the forced intimacy, but Bruni makes sure that Kate controls as much of the room as its owner. Too, Bruni emphasizes the growing relationship between the two by ultimately banishing the wall between Cable Company and Wall Street, so that Kate can talk to Larry from anywhere onstage and cross into his domain at will.
Anita Yavich’s costumes nail both time period and temperaments, and David Lander’s lighting, with Brian Ronan’s sound design, keep this production moving at the speed of Jordan Lage’s fast-talking, perfectly controlled Larry. Do we want him to win? The script says no. Do we fall for him, and even fall for his arguments? This production is all the more intriguing because we very well might.