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Dark humor keeps Dark & Stormy's 'Dry Powder' from blowing away

Charles Gorrill

Charles Gorrill

As a company, Dark & Stormy Productions is aptly named. Under artistic director (and regular cast member) Sara Marsh, taut psychological workouts tend to flourish in the organization’s industrial-flavored Grain Belt studio space. Comedies fare less well, and the irony of Dark & Stormy’s Dry Powder is that a darker and stormier production might actually yield more laughs.

Sarah Burgess’ 2016 play sounds like David Mamet with a dash of Neil LaBute, but in substance it updates Wall Street for the 21st century. A private equity firm run by an aging Master of the Universe named Rick (Robert Dorfman) is trying to pull off the purchase of a luggage company helmed by the charismatic young Jeff (Darrick Mosley).

Rick’s situation is complicated by a fresh public relations disaster involving mass layoffs at another company his firm owned, juxtaposed against a lavish party. Under the circumstances, two of Rick’s colleagues take opposing views on what to do with Jeff’s company. Seth (Alex Galick) thinks the smart move is to spotlight Jeff’s American workforce and use e-commerce to cut costs. Jenny (Marsh), on the other hand, wants to basically fire everyone and pivot to the Chinese market.

The most impressive thing about Burgess’ script is how legibly she manages to convey the stakes of these complex financial dealings without resorting to awkward devices or interpolated lectures. There is a literal lecture, to an unseen class of finance students, but its dramaturgical function is to reveal Jenny’s remorseless character.

The steadily building tension over whether the deal will succeed holds our attention to the end of the hour-and-a-half show, but crucial characters fail to click in director Michaela Johnson’s uneven production.

From the start, it’s a heavy lift to transport us from a warehouse space to the gleaming corridors of high finance. Theater audiences are eager to suspend disbelief, but here, with sets perforce minimal and with the audience close to the action, small design details carry a lot of weight. When we meet a man sitting behind a smudged desk on a worn carpet, the actors have their work cut out to establish that this is a company dealing in colossal sums.

In this case, central performances don’t help. Dorfman is an enormously winning actor with a seemingly innate onstage modesty, but Rick is decidedly not a modest character; Dorfman’s shambling demeanor doesn’t plausibly establish his authority. As the acerbic Jenny, Marsh gets many of the play’s best zingers, but instead of tossing them off she belabors them in a performance that’s too strange and slow for her hard-charging character.

The two people who actually seem to be doing coke instead of codeine are Seth and Jeff. In their shared scenes, Galick and Mosley bring the show to life with a crisp urgency. Jeff is a man of principle, but he hears the sound of money. As Mosley palms his lowball and looks sideways at Galick, we finally start to hear it too.

 

Dry Powder
Grain Belt Warehouse
77 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
612-401-4506; through June 29