Other People’s Moneyby Jerry Sterner. Directed by Roseann Cane.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Neal Berntson, Colleen Lovett, Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon, Nancy Hammell, John Trainor; photo: Dan Region
Schane-Lydon and Lovett; photo: Dan Region
"We got better things to do with our money."
Two productions of any play within four months can be a heavy load to bear. I reviewed another production of "Other People’s Money" in late June up in Vermont and it makes it harder to talk about this production at the Ghent Playhouse. One was a commercial theater production with professional actors and one is a community theater production with non-professionals. Fighting the urge to apply the exact same standards there are still criteria that must be met, even though that is difficult when sounds and visions of moments in the first production crop up as I address the most recent viewing earlier this evening. Oldcastle in June vs. Ghent in October. That’s the challenge.
First of all the quote that heads this review is from the first act and it addresses the stage attitude that seemed to define the production. A second line hit me during Act Two and I jotted it down as an alternative review title: "A poison pill–similar to a shark repellant." Both of these choices are on the money concerning the play and the performance, a statement I shall now try to explain.
Ticket prices at the Ghent Playhouse are very reasonable. Still the oddities of this performance make me think that buying a ticket for this production is slightly iffy as a choice. No one does a bad job here; in fact the cast is generally reliable. The production on this small limiting stage space is remarkably efficient. Even so, there were those moments when everything felt wrong and that’s where the quibble comes in.
The second line is about the choices to be made by the principal character, Andrew Jorgenson. These odd, legal descriptions of the possible directions for a man whose business is under attack by a cold-hearted, lethal attacker of delimiting corporations are ugly in image, ugly in sound and in repetition. This play, neither a comedy nor a tragedy, sits in that middle ground where no descriptions are correct in summary, but only indicators of future, off-stage skirmishes.
In fact a lot happens off stage here. The play covers activity in New York City and somewhere in Rhode Island. It takes place over a couple of months. No one ever changes costume, not even a necktie and a pocket square is altered. The economic cast of five people provides us with information about the actions of other characters whom we never get to see or hear. As much happens, if not more, during the brief Dave Brubeck blackouts when "Take Five" seems to chant the unpleasantness of the situation and the people in a quiet, too quiet to be disquieting, canned edition rendered so silently that it almost isn’t there.
The cast is comprised of old favorites and some new blood as well. Nancy Hammell does very well with the character of Bea Sullivan, an older woman involved with the head of the firm for whom she works. Hammell’s realization of Bea is among her finest work at this theater. She has a firm grasp on how Bea would react and reacting is what both Bea and her interpreter seem to do best. Hammell’s reactions to information coming from her daughter is dark and haughty and so New England motherly that she seemed to have the best grip on a character in this edition of the play.
She is closely followed by John Trainor as Andrew Jorgenson (Jorgy to his friends). As Jorgy struggles to find the right road to saving his company and his employees Trainor moves inside and outside his character surrounding him with impressions of the man upon which he seems to draw the right look, the right movement, the right voice and accent, the right temperament. The awful part is noticing the actor making the choices. Hesitations now and then complicate the awkward picture here. However once Trainor has the moment right, the picture completed, he is grand to watch and listen to. His short rants are his best moments as he makes you feel Jorgy’s need and his conviction. Those moments are brilliant John Trainor values. No one in the region can make his audience choke and weep and laugh the way he can and he does in this play.
Colleen Lovett makes Katie Sullivan, a lawyer in a suit, a sexy dame without dropping so much as a cuff button, but still she strips to her soul as she deals with old family and professional ties and with the ugly, mean, opponent of all things fine and good. Lovett is the other most consistent performer in this show, never leaving her character to become perceptively herself for a moment (Hammell is the other one). This is a very professional actress and it is her work that is both the challenge and the meter for the rest of the cast. It is very hard to be as perfect as Lovett manages to be all of the time.
The character of Lawrence Garfinkle, Wall Street hijacker, is a trap for an actor. Deceptively straightforward this man is really a cipher. Who he is, the real man, is never revealed to us or to his opponents, except for a few quirky moments during which he must be seen through the plotting of this play. As played by Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon we are never allowed to see his heart and groin, but only his mind and his mouth. He continually moved into and out of character and for no reason that I could see. He just seemed to be unable to keep himself and Garfinkle fused.
The narrative voice in this play passes from one character to another, which is the one element of the play itself that has always left me cold. Principally, though, it belongs to William Coles, played here by Neal Berntson whose casual rendition of the facts of the story sets the wrong tone and winds up the evening with a teacher-like reveal that loses for us all the impact of the final surprises. This is a character whose subtleties show us the heart of incidental deviltry. Berntson never approaches this level, however, which weakens both Coles and the story’s impact.
Director Roseann Cane has provided many opportunities for each actor to shine and show us something truly remarkable about each person in the tale of business and corruption. That the actors haven’t taken the bits in their teeth and provided us with a runaway race to the finish-line in no way takes away the flow and the panache of Cane’s take on the play. Her stage pictures are perfect and her choices are excellent. This is just too difficult a play for these actors to correctly interpret outside of their finest moments. Sterner’s inventions are human beings and not caricatures which are generally much easier to play. This is not a comedy, as said above, nor is it a tragedy, but rather an awkward amalgam with trap-doors which open suddenly swallowing the unexpected for a moment before catapulting them back onto the stage. For non-pros this is a very hard fight to the finish.
If you haven’t seen this play it is one you should see and this is an opportunity. If you know the play well, or have seen it in the past four months, you really don’t need to. But if you love this play, then you must go and see how another troupe of players addresses its subtle ups and downs. When the opening night 50/50 drawing winner was announced he valiantly cried, "It’s other people’s money" and got the best laugh of the evening. You might make your own audience cheer as he did.
Other People’s Money plays through October 27 at the Ghent Playhouse, just off Route 66 in Ghent, New York. For information and tickets call the box office at 1-800-838-3006 or visit ghentplayhouse.org.