Fi­nan­cial tale of­fers low re­turn on emo­tions

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

THE deal in Other Peo­ple’s Money is that a feared New York cor­po­rate raider is at­tempt­ing a hos­tile takeover of a New Eng­land wire and ca­ble com­pany run by a de­cent, hard­nosed chief ex­ec­u­tive.

The Jerry Sterner busi­ness drama, which closes the Royal Man­i­toba The­atre Cen­tre’s 2012-13 sea­son, art­fully cre­ates the clash of val­ues be­tween the old and new busi­ness worlds that were philo­soph­i­cally and fi­nan­cially at war in the greed-is-good 1980s and are still to­day. Sterner makes you choose sides dur­ing a con­clud­ing share­hold­ers meet­ing where both the re­pel­lent Larry the Liq­uida­tor Garfin­kle and the grandpa-like An­drew Jor­gen­son make their im­pas­sioned pitches to de­ter­mine who will win con­trol of the com­pany.

The speeches are mad­den­ingly per­sua­sive as they out­line how to run a busi­ness. Jor­gen­son, who could have walked out of an in­spi­ra­tional Frank Capra film, gives a rous­ing talk about his peo­ple-first busi­ness model, his dis­dain for the Garfin­kles of the world who be­come ob­scenely wealthy by do­ing noth­ing but play God with other peo­ple’s money and his un­shak­able faith in a his com­pany’s im­mi­nent turn­around. Jor­gen­son could be talk­ing about Mitt Rom­ney, the de­feated Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, who got rich buy­ing, sell­ing, flip­ping and strip­ping busi­nesses, mak­ing him a poster boy for the heads-I-win, tail­syou-lose busi­ness prac­tices of the ’80s.

Then the sup­posed vil­lain, Garfin­kle, steps to the podium, con­fi­dently grabs the mi­cro­phone and oblit­er­ates Jor­gen­son’s sen­ti­men­tal ar­gu­ments by say­ing the un­der­val­ued com­pany is ob­so­lete, that he is re­spon­si­ble to the share­hold­ers who have trusted him with their money and that cap­i­tal­ism only al­lows for the sur­vival of the fittest.

The vote is recorded and when the re­sult is an­nounced there are many ab­sten­tions, which would also be the choice of many in the RMTC au­di­ence. None of the characters are lik­able, which makes it dif­fi­cult to buy into Other Peo­ple’s Money. Who wants to get warm and fuzzy about an­other soul­less Wall Street shark?

So who is there to root for? Fat-cat Garfin­kle earns some grudg­ing re­spect, de­spite his abra­sive per­son­al­ity, for be­ing a straight-shoot­ing, self- Royal Man­i­toba The­atre Cen­tre To May 11 Tick­ets: $29-$68.50 at 204-942-6537 or www.mtc.mb.ca

½ out of five de­scribed “mod­ern-day gun­slinger.” He makes no ex­cuses for his vo­ra­cious ap­petite for gob­bling up trou­bled com­pa­nies and dough­nuts, which sug­gest a hole where his heart should be.

But the in­tran­si­gent Jor­gen­son, who rep­re­sents small-town val­ues and eth­i­cal man­age­ment, is guilty of be­nign ne­glect, which has put his fam­ily com­pany and its 1,200 work­ers at risk from take-no-pris­on­ers, takeover artists. He re­fuses to lis­ten to the sug­ges­tions as to how to ward off Garfin­kle’s ad­vances made by his sec­ond-in com­mand, Wil­liam Coles, or his cor­po­rate lawyer, Kate Sul­li­van, daugh­ter of Jor­gen­son’s com­pan­ion, Bea. That he be­lieves that his long-time share­hold­ers are driven by loy­alty more than money shows how out of date he is with the world.

The un­event­ful first act is dom­i­nated by Garfin­kle’s ma­noeu­vring and talk of 13-D forms, green mail and poi­son pills and takes a while to drum up in­ter­est. The ac­tion moves back and forth be­tween Jor­gen­son’s homey of­fice and Garfin­kle’s ul­tra-mod­ern lair with its im­age of the fa­mous Wall Street bull, which aptly sym­bol­izes his per­sonal style.

Brian Per­chaluk’s sleek set is dom­i­nated by five of­fice tow­ers that keep the two-hour ne­go­ti­a­tion ses­sion mov­ing briskly. Di­rec­tor Ann Hodges has as­sem­bled a first-rate cast headed by Ash­ley Wright who gives a force­ful per­for­mance as Garfin­kle, who is a boor and cor­po­rate bully but makes a lot of sense. He smiles and sweats and charms with his plain talk.

Garfin­kle is af­ter the com­pany but also the girl, the fiery Kate, who is ini­tially keen to bat­tle such a for­mi­da­ble foe. Their wheel­ing-and-deal­ing turns into a weird courtship, in­volv­ing turn­ing each other on with new busi­ness pro­pos­als and sexy dou­ble en­ten­dres. Ju­lia Arkos is fear­less as her Kate rel­ishes the parry-and-thrust of “the game” with this un­likely soul­mate.

If the au­di­ence had also been asked to vote about the Larry-Kate hook-up, most would surely have been against it.

Play­ing Jor­gen­son was Win­nipeg’s Harry Nelkin, who was very be­liev­able in his Jimmy Ste­wart role as pro­tec­tor of the his work­ers and com­mu­nity. Bea is his long-time com­pan­ion, and like ev­ery­one in the play, grap­ples with sell­ing her soul to get what she wants. Terri Ch­er­ni­ack brings a dig­nity to her por­trayal of Bea but shows she can get down and dirty, too.

Paul Essiem­bre plays Coles in an im­mac­u­late three-piece busi­ness suit but ef­fec­tively al­lows his bot­tom-line­in­stincts to show through.

Other Peo­ple’s Money is an en­ter­tain­ing cau­tion­ary tale about the cut­throat world of mod­ern fi­nance but of­fers only a fair re­turn on the emo­tional in­vest­ment of the au­di­ence.

PHO­TOS BY MELISSA TAIT / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Wright (from left, above) and Nelkin ex­change words as Ch­er­ni­ack and Essiem­bre watch;

ri­vals Wright and Nelkin face off over the fate of the com­pany (be­low).

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