By Patrick Hurley
Money is power. A mantra that is the driving force behind the financial system that keeps Capitalism thriving in America. It’s also the driving force behind 63 Trillion a new play by John Bunzel and presented by The New American Theatre and Mud bay Partners, playing now through June 7 at the Odyssey Theatre.
Money managers Frank (Robert Cicchini), Kenny (Jack Stehlin), Tom (Ken Lerner), and Dick (Jeffrey Jones) are going about their day as usual at their brokerage firm when suddenly the global financial markets go radioactive, and an office-wide panic sets in. Power struggles, alliances, and even fist fights break out as the men try to keep themselves from their own financial ruin. Frank deals with Peter Black (Jordan Lund) an influential client who entrusted Frank with millions of dollars right before the meltdown. Frank “misplaces” the money and spends most of the play avoiding Peter, until that ultimately becomes impossible. Frank is dealing with personal problems, his sexually confused dog among them, and so his distracted attention may end up being his downfall. Dick, a sort of financial sage, uses his killer instinct to make backdoor deals and alliances that will position himself to come out on top. And even office assistant Jonah (Noah James) gets mixed up in the shenanigans of deal-making and posturing.
Halfway through the play Nancy (Megan Gallagher) from legal shows up to prepare the men for the impending government takeover of their firm. This ultimately leads to further complications, backstabbing, and new alliances; culminating in a peripeteia that is neither surprising nor inevitable. But as so often is the case in theatrical narratives, the journey proves more satisfying than the destination.
John Bunzel has written a testosterone-driven comedy about power, greed, and the American dream. Too watered-down to be Mamet, and lacking the psychological specificity of LaBute, the play falls somewhere between high-octane satire, and political workplace drama without ever fully committing to either. While at the same time maintaining the very specific landscape of white male privilege. It dances with misogyny, but allows the character of Nancy to be the voice of reason that points it out. The play moves quickly enough to work as a comedy, but for the blackouts that come all to frequently. The momentum of the show is slowed to a near stop by the scene changes, some of which, are only a few minutes later. There is also an intermission for some reason, and this breaks the play up into too many pieces, and it does suffer a loss of velocity because of it.
The performers engage the audience with the kind of high energy performances that most comedies demand. Particularly Robert Cicchini, who takes the rather typical archetypal male role of Frank and makes it his own with his subtle sensitivity and deft comic timing. The way he talks about his dog, who by the way may be the most interestingly complex character in the play, makes us see him for more than an archetype. He becomes human. He breathes life into all of his scenes and is the most easily empathetic character because of the dimensions the actor creates. Jeffrey Jones is wonderfully odd as Dick, and he knows how to get a laugh. Megan Gallagher as Nancy is a welcome addition to the show at it’s midpoint, and she amps up the intensity with her determined performance. All of the actors do their part to keep the momentum of the show rolling forward, and with a lesser cast this play could easily derail.
In the end, there are a few laughs, maybe a few groans, and there may even be a lesson in here somewhere. Bottom Line: This is a very familiar story, with familiar characters, in a familiar setting. A piece of naturalistic theater that moves logically from one place to the next and gets a few laughs while doing it. It’s not an exciting piece, but it’s an entertaining enough diversion for those who enjoy watching the well-to-do get theirs.
By John Bunzel
Directed by Steve Zuckerman
A Guest Production at the Odyssey Theatre
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
April 25-June 7