by Cynthia Citron
If Lawrence Garfinkle comes to your town, be wary! And be afraid. Be very afraid. Garfinkle, known to his fellow Wall Street stockbrokers as “Larry the Liquidator,” is known to be ruthless, relentless, and rich. When he comes to town you can be sure somebody’s struggling business is about to be “restructured.”
Larry, played bombastically by the excellent Rob Shapiro, is the central figure in Jerry Sterner’s marvelous play, “Other People’s Money.” Larry is a successful corporate raider who has come to a small Rhode Island town to investigate a company called New England Wire and Cable. Once a thriving plant with some 1200 workers, the company’s stock has been going down steadily and Larry likens the plant’s product to the buggy whip—-a useful product in its time but made obsolete by a changing technology.
It is Larry’s plan to buy into the company, offer the shareholders up to twice what the stock is selling for and, as the new owner, close the business down and use it as a tax write-off. But this will inevitably devastate the town as the jobs of the workers are eliminated.
Rising to oppose this plan is the company’s current head, Andrew Jorgenson, whose father founded the company. Jorgenson (a crusty and recalcitrant Kent Minault) has been running the company for nearly 40 years and is determined to keep it going, partly out of pride, but also to keep his workers from becoming jobless and the town from becoming a ghost town.
Supporting Jorgenson are his devoted assistant, Bea (Amanda Carlin), who has worked for him and loved him for decades, and the president, or managing director, Coles (Peter Michael McDonald), who has worked for Jorgenson nearly as long as Bea has.
And finally, the fifth character in this incredibly talented quintet, Kate (Robyn Cohen), the beautiful and brilliant lawyer who is Bea’s daughter. As clever and manipulative as Larry, she is persuaded to help Jorgensen hang onto his company.
In response to the tactics that she suggests there arise the questions of basic loyalty to your friends and family, to your shareholders, to your employees, and to the community; how to adjust to changes in the American economy and technology (can we, or should we, stop progress?); and what constitutes illegality or immorality.
Meanwhile, Larry sees himself as Robin Hood. “I rob the rich and give to the middle class,” he says. He considers free enterprise economics the “survival of the fittest” and claims he doesn’t need the money, he just wants it “because it is there.” He describes his work as “legal, exciting, and fun” and adds that “the play is more about the game than the player.”
In the end, Jorgenson, who believes in the loyalty of his stockholders, delivers a passionate speech about honesty, integrity, and supporting the community. Larry counters with an equally impassioned speech explaining and justifying his own activities, and the audience is left with enough thought-provoking arguments to last for a disturbingly long time.
Jerry Sterner’s play is an earnest, extremely intelligent, beautifully written, and often funny play. And Oliver Muirhead’s direction complements the dialogue perfectly. But the outstanding ingredient in this emotional potpourri is the solid performances of the five actors. Each of them is extraordinary in his own way, and together they form, in my view, the very best acting ensemble to be seen currently in Los Angeles.
Written in the 1980s and made into a film in 1991, this award-winning play, presented by the InterACT Theatre Company, is onstage for a limited run at the Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles. Performances, starring two alternating casts, will be presented Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 through Nov 20. Call (818) 765-8732 for more information and tickets or visit the company website at http:/