Southwark Playhouse, London – until 11 May 2019
It’s a long transverse stage: at one end at a scruffy crowded steel desk sits Jorgy, Michael Brandon exuding down-home amiability as the longtime head of a New England wire and cable company. Not so profitable these days, but jogging along, keeping 1,200 jobs in the fading division, no outstanding liabilities, no breaches of health and safety law. Decent values.
At the far end facing him is a sleek black desk under a fake Picasso, and the huge figure of Larry the liquidator: Rob Locke as a massive, doughnut-addicted and majestically pinstriped vulture capitalist. He is buying his way in, bit by bit, to take control of Jorgy’s company, close the unprofitable bit and strip the assets. This is gladiatorial, Wall Street versus Main-Street-USA. Even in 1989, as the lawyer Kate says, it is “what’s happening”.
So how nicely appropriate of Katharine Farmer and Blue Touch Paper Productions to open this 1989 play by Jerry Sterner on the very day we learned that President Trump gets a State Visit this summer. Trump, apparently, saw it and loved it on its first outing. It is almost a fable: Jorgy, and his loyal PA Bea (Lin Blakley, a lovely portrait of female loyalty) represent the decent American business dream of Harry S Truman, as opposed to the less-decent American reality of Trump Tower.
Larry is entertainingly frank about the only point of anything being to get money, get it right now, and enjoy the shootout on the way. “In the old Westerns, didn’t everyone wanna be the gunslinger?” But once, as Jorgy says, at least the robber barons left traces like banks, railroads and mines. Now it’s just a trail of theoretical paper.
Brandon is a likeable Jorgy, never wavering, exuding decency, but rising to eloquence only in his final plea to shareholders. More anxious is his deputy and likely heir Billy (a weasel-sharp Mark Rose) who begs the insouciant Larry to wait two years before his wrecking operation, so he can save his career. Bea’s daughter Kate (Amy Burke) is a NY lawyer deputed to make the company’s case and outwit or persuade Larry out of his hostile takeover. But he fascinates her, as pythons do.
The action is a series of duels and confrontations, and in the first half has trouble holding interest unless you really enjoy share-dealing intricacy (though Bea’s donut-carousel is the most magnificent prop of the season so far). It heats up nicely in the second half with some treacheries and twists, not always from a predictable direction. Kate has some startling pre-Weinstein moments with the appalling Larry. And there are lines which, in the year of Trump’s arrival here, and a time when workforce welfare is rarely top of the financial world’s priorities, are telling.
“What about the planet?”
“Sold for scrap”
“What about the workforce?”
“It’s called maximizing profit. Restructuring”
‘So restructuring means you never have to say you’re sorry?” “Yep”
“How can you live with yourself?” “I have to. Nobody else will”.
box office southwarkplayhouse.co.uk to 11 May