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Good Greed

[whitespace] Other People's Money
Michael Amsler

Old Guard: Lucas McClure, left, and Robert Parnell fight for the old-fashioned ways of their company.

'Other People's Money' takes over

By Daedalus Howell

A MBROSE BIERCE once laconically defined the American invention of the corporation as "an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." Bierce's explication becomes the thesis for a rambunctious economics tutorial/history lesson/seriocomedy currently offered by the Pacific Alliance Stage Company: playwright Jerry Sterner's Other People's Money, aptly directed by Robert Currier.

Written in 1989, Other People's Money is Sterner's summation of '80s-style corporate avarice tied to the David and Goliath myth's slingshot. New England Wire and Cable is the infirm holding of an otherwise profitable enterprise under siege by corporate raider Lawrence Garfinkle (Gary S. Martinez), who intends to plunder its assets and shut it down.

Andrew Jorgensen (Robert Parnell), the Wire and Cable patriarch, and his managerial sidekick William Coles (Lucas McClure) discover their corner-store business ethic is outmoded in the "Greed Is Good" business environment. Enter hired gun Kate Sullivan (Susan Papa), an attractive young attorney not above sexual politicking and muckraking. In the balance hangs the fate of 1,200 factory workers (see director Michael Moore's semidocumentary film Roger and Me for a gorgeous parallel) and the old-fashioned way of doing business.

Will the Moloch of big business erase yet another visage from the landscape of free enterprise? Sure.

In the present era of Microsoft, Starbucks, and HMOs, Sterner's play does not clear the hurdle between timely and timeless--the '80s are over, the corporations have won--and an unheeded cautionary tale does not qualify for canonization. Other People's Money now works best as a time capsule, a documentary drama whose philosophical assertions apply to an elapsed epoch in economic history.

If only director Currier had shaved the play's moralizing to an imperceptible stubble. The excellence of this production notwithstanding, Currier's treatment could have been a smidgen closer to perfection had it been a resolutely harrowing history lesson rather than an expired admonition of what could pass.

As the bloated Garfinkle, the splendidly cast Martinez brings a barking, tough-guy cadence to his dialogue that is despotic without obscuring the corporate thug's hatchling humanity.

The smoky-voiced Papa's performance as the gallant and haughty legal-beagle Sullivan is a convincing amalgam of emotional nuance and manner. Papa is indefatigable, sexy, and spirited in the role and pairs well with Martinez (their scenes are the show's finest).

McClure brings a soothing presence to Coles with his consistent, well-hewn portrayal, making the emotional resignation of this mild-mannered company man eerily palpable.

As Bea, the ever-faithful office crone and romantic confidant to old man Jorgensen, Vlada Claire offers a poignant and tear-laden performance with much grace and aplomb.

And Parnell excels with playwright Sterner's arguably stereotypical codger, adding dimension and light where lesser artists would stumble into hackneyed and facile characterization. Parnell's Trumanesque plea to his shareholders near the play's end is a dexterous tour de force, a triumph (the plot notwithstanding), and the actor absolutely shines.

Michael Grice's set design is a pragmatic split of the Spreckels Center studio stage between Garfinkle's cool New York digs and New England Wire and Cable's homey, wood-paneled Rhode Island office--both fittingly dressed in either the flat-black hues of Sharper Image paraphernalia or dopey trophies, ashtrays, and office amenities. Scenes are so ably punctuated by light designer Brad Nierman that the action nearly "cuts" together like a movie.

Thankfully, Pacific Alliance Stage Company's Other People's Money does not downsize, restructure, or otherwise lay off its talent. Though it can't emancipate audiences from corporate serfdom, it certainly shows us how we got there.

Other People's Money plays Thursday-Sunday through March 1 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12. 584-1700.

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From the February 19-25, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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