Springtime, it appears, is when Sacramento theater producers turn their thoughts to dysfunctional families.
The city’s three leading theater companies in recent weeks all have opened dramas that focus on some variation on this theme. First was Capital Stage Company’s “The Arsonists,” a Southern Gothic tragedy about a father-and-daughter team of arsonists. It was followed by Sacramento Theatre Company’s “Mothers and Sons,” about a mother grieving her adult son's death from AIDS, and the lingering resentment and anger she feels years later toward his lover and his new family.
Now comes B Street Theatre’s “Dry Powder,” which presents a different sort of family dynamic — a corporate family. The “Wall Street”-styled drama examines the pressures of making money while maintaining ethics, as seen through the prism of a father figure CEO and the two young proteges competing for his approval.
New York playwright Sarah Burgess’ story is a simple one: One company is trying to buy another, with the negotiators setting and resetting their moral compasses throughout the process while wrestling with the value of relationships and the price of success. The script is full of business terms such as “LPs” (limited partners), “M&A” (mergers and acquisitions) and “dry powder” (the amount of cash reserves or assets that are available to invest or spend), and the jargon can distract from the essence of the story if you let it.
Fortunately, director Buck Busfield has assembled a cast of B Street regulars whose talent helps propel the story and make it both credible and relatable. As is his trademark, Busfield — who is also B Street’s producing artistic director — makes full use of the stage, the minimalist set and his actors’ skill to heighten the intensity of the drama.
“Dry Powder” is set in present-day Manhattan, and the story unfolds within the glass-walled offices of KMM Capital Management, a private equity firm. President Rick Hannel (Dave Pierini), is meeting with his two top managing directors — Seth (Jason Kuykendall) and Jenny (Melinda Parrett) — to plan their next big deal. Seth pitches a proposed buyout and takeover of Landmark Luggage, a Sacramento-based manufacturer, but Jenny thinks the deal is a loser and tries to shoot it down.
When it becomes clear that Rick wants Landmark, Jenny changes her tack and comes up with a competing approach that she hopes will win Rick’s approval.
Rick has groomed Seth, a family man with a pregnant wife, and Jenny, a single woman married to her career, to be the fierce competitors they are today, having hired them both right out of business school. But the proteges couldn't be more opposite. Seth is an aw-shucks dealmaker with a social conscience, and Jenny is a true devotee to the "greed is good" philosophy.
“I’m a leader. I have vision. You have nothing,” Seth tells Jenny. “You’re a vampire."
In line with their world views, Seth and Jenny recommend dramatically different strategies for achieving the Landmark deal. Jenny proposes that KMM gut the luggage company, lay off its management and factory workers, and move manufacturing from Sacramento to Bangladesh to better serve China’s growing middle class.
Seth, who has done all the face-to-face negotiating with Landmark CEO Jeff Schrader (Jahi Kearse), wants to honor Schrader's wish to have the company stay in Sacramento and grow, allowing it to develop a new online customized luggage concept.
Seth has all but promised Schrader that the deal will proceed the way the two had worked it out. But as Jenny’s approach gains momentum with the boss, Seth must grapple with how to keep the deal moving forward while still maintaining his integrity.
Meanwhile, Rick has his own problems. He is facing a public relations disaster after he threw himself a lavish engagement party, complete with a live elephant, the same week that KMM instituted massive layoffs at one of its recent corporate conquests. The stunt has turned off many of his investors and dried up his working capital — his dry powder — for the luggage deal.
Rick vents his anxiety by driving golf balls (and his cellphone) down the hallways of his glass office suite. His deranged antics are believable, lending more credence to “Dry Powder” as an honest but frightening look at the true art — and cost— of the deal.
What: A “Wall Street”-esque drama about the anatomy of a corporate takeover, and how a CEO and his two proteges juggle profits, ethics and morality. Presented by B Street Theatre. Written by Sarah Burgess. Directed by Buck Busfield.
Where: Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts, 2700 Capitol Ave., Sacramento
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays. Through March 11.
Cost: $27-$46, discounts available for students and seniors
Information: 916-443-5300 or www.bstreettheatre.org
Running time: About two hours, including a 15-minute intermission