Fine 'Other People's Money' especially valuable on small stage @

October 08, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

It's a funny thing about money. To most of us, it's what w work for so we can buy what we want. To others, it's the measure of success. To still others, it's love. And to a few hopelessly possessed souls, it's sex.

Larry "The Liquidator" Garfinkle, the protagonist in Jerry

Sterner's "Other People's Money," is one of the possessed. The way Joseph Cimino plays him in the Spotlighters' slick, well-cast production, you can almost feel his pulse quicken and see his eyes gleam with lust when he adds up a column of figures.

When this New York takeover artist pays his first visit to New England Wire and Cable, the struggling company that is the latest object of his affections, he uses words like "foreplay" and "rhythm." This isn't business to him, it's seduction.

Although half of the action takes place in New England and the other half in Garfinkle's New York office, director Richard Jackson and set designer Richard Fuss reduce the geography separating the two locales to a diagonal line bisecting the small, arena stage. And, unlike spacious touring houses like the Mechanic, where "Other People's Money" played in 1990, at the Spotlighters when an actor delivers an aside to the audience, he's in your face.

This is especially effective in the climactic scene at the annual meeting of New England Wire, when the stockholders are asked to choose between the company's hard-working, responsible family leadership and Garfinkle's crass but lucrative takeover bid. In such close quarters, you can almost overlook the fact that this is also the play's most didactic scene.

Another reason this heavy-handed scene slips by so gracefully is the warmth and conviction Bruce Godfrey brings to the fatherly role of the chairman of New England Wire. He and his loyal, long-time secretary, played with jolly devotion by Mary Alice Feather, are palpable reminders of the dedicated mom-and-pop tradition at the heart of so many small businesses.

Their relationship is one of the script's two bona fide human romances. And, because it takes the form of an extramarital affair, it's also one of the ways Sterner blurs the line between good and evil.

The other romance, which is considerably more incendiary, is between Garfinkle and Kate Sullivan, the lawyer hired by New England Wire. Since bright, ambitious Kate is supposed to be Garfinkle's adversarial equal, the role is most effective when played by an actress whose sweet, ladylike appearance offers a contrast to her tough-as-nails personality. Although Jennifer 0` Brown does a fine job with the second part of this description, her cold, driven demeanor lessens the potential punch.

It's interesting to note, however, that the slimiest character in the Spotlighters' production is not villainous Garfinkle or manipulative Kate, it's mild-mannered William Coles, the president of New England Wire. As played by Bill Rucker, this soft-spoken gentleman comes across as the exemplar of one of the scariest Me-Generation business philosophies -- devious self-interest.

Director Jackson has heightened the emphasis on Coles' deception by eliminating the script's coda about Garfinkle and Kate. Instead, the final lines are those in which Coles assures us that he's doing fine, thank you. It's a nice, creepy reminder that sometimes the worst monsters aren't the ones who advertise -- like Garfinkle, who tells us he enjoys being called "Larry the Liquidator." Sometimes the worst monsters are the quiet folks who give no advance warning; they merely wait for you to step in front of them, then stab you in the back.

"Other People's Money"

Where: Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St.

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Through Oct. 24

Tickets: $8 and $9

Call: (410) 752-1225

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