Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Off-Broadway: Serious Money

All things considered, they'd rather have cash
Stan Barouh)
Serious Money
Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC)
written by Caryl Churchill
directed by Cheryl Faraone

Take the rare chance to see this drama by Caryl Churchill, the greatest living British playwright. Writing in 1987, CC sneers at contemporary Londoners, then in a fiscal orgy of '80s deregulation. She self-consciously echoes the original Restoration Era financial explosion by mimicking that theater's rhymed couplets (the device is less obtrusive than you'd expect) and its obsession with excess, best captured in its mocking view of human nature. Plot's mostly there to give life to the urban sketchwork, a caricature of London packed with vitality. In Money, a hostile takeover doesn't stop to mourn the suicide of one facilitator, though his sister (an arbitrageur herself) suspects foul play. But the plot runs out even as London keeps running. The gal drops her investigation when she's offered a gig on Wall Street; the men abandon their hostile takeover in a deal with HRM's Government―it's an election year, after all. If Serious Money stages anything, it's the abandonment of that gentleman's fiction, a wall between the private and public sectors.

Obviously, Money is timely. Credit, aside from Churchill herself, goes to PTP's programmers, who consistently stage rare but excellent contempo British scripts (they regularly showcase Howard Barker, a near-unknown in NYC who, along with Alan Ayckbourne, is CC's main competition for Greatest Living Etc.). PTP's productions, however, rarely equal their selections. The acting company is often uneven, though for laudable reasons: PTP casts recent Middlebury grads in the smaller roles, to underwrite their careers. But their amateurishness means the experienced leads must carry the show. In the case of Money, they do so ably. Alex Draper stands out as a oily trader, licking his chops over his financial scheme like the Big Bad Wolf eying a piggie. Tara Giordano, as the bereaved sister, and David Barlow, as an American yuppie in London who narrates the action, also keep the show engaging.

The larger problem with Money is its direction. Churchill's dramatic reputation derives mainly from her ability to create a specific set of theatrical devices for each play's subject. Her work requires an insightful director and (ideally) a canny dramaturg. Director Cheryl Faraone does okay with traditional scenes involving dialogue among two or three characters, and manages the rhymed verse with finesse. But she gets distracted during the setpieces. And the first half of Act 1 is a series of setpieces: Thatcherite London in montage, a cacophony meant to echo the trading floor. Likewise, a pre-intermission song (a 17C-style ballad with modern vulgarities by New Wave rocker Ian Dury) is almost unintelligable. Faraone never seems comfortable with the moralizing satiric style that Churchill pays homage to. And so PTP's production is only a moderate success. But any chance to see Serious Money should be valued highly.


Serious Money plays at the Atlantic Stage 2, closing on July 29. Tickets?


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