Roger Kirby's flimsy stinker of a play, Burleigh Grime$, is about a Wall Street buccaneer who habitually inflates and deflates the value of ephemeral companies to make a stock-market killing. So I guess it counts as a kind of backhanded tribute to the play's thematic resonance when I say that director David Warren's pointlessly lavish new off-Broadway production made me think "tax shelter."
Wendie Malick & James Badge
Dale in Burleigh Grime$
Somebody's got to be writing off that beautiful industrial set by James Youmans, starkly lit by Jeff Croiter, which exists mainly to house four live musicians, including two drummers. Wittily dressed like traders themselves, two guitarists sit at desks on either side of the stage, surrounded by banks of computer monitors, where they do a brisk business in 12-bar surf rock. The instrumental tunes, credited to the estimable David Yazbek, accompany the play's "action," which includes some fleet-footed musical staging by Andy Blankenbuehler.
I'm less sure that the actors will be able to deduct their time and effort; they may want to consult an accountant. Stiletto-sharp, martini-dry Wendie Malick plays Elizabeth Bigley, a coolly cutthroat financial reporter; smiling rigidly on her fake newscasts, she gets to deliver the worst lines in a play with some stiff competition. In the title role, Mark Moses has a chuckling ease, particularly when Grimes is riding high and cocktail hour has topped another day of big deals, but he lacks the diabolical glint of remorseless avarice that's supposed to awe his underlings.
These protegés include Buck (John Lavelle), a needy nerd with a practiced alpha-male bark; Hap (Jason Antoon), a wild-haired math savant; and George (James Badge Dale), the eager, dumb-as-a-post son of Grimes' WASPish bête noire. Bigley has her own intern, the cherubic muckraker Grace (Ashley Williams). In a thankless series of gyrating bimbo roles—office coffee wench, stripper, gold-digging wife—is the game Nancy Anderson.
Kirby's plotting is plentiful but weak, confusing satire's license for exaggeration with a penchant for utter fantasy. Grimes and Bigley have an apparently longstanding racket of misinformation and insider trading that would make Eliott Spitzer's head spin: She reads patently false news items, like one
about a merger of eBay and Google called "Ebaygle," and Grimes' traders make hay both on the upside and the inevitable downside of these economic mirages. They set up newcomer George for a fall, while Grace digs for dirt right under her boss's nose. Complications, machinations and flirtations ensue, until Grimes finds himself, as Grace so wittily puts it, "hoist on his own canard."
Jason Antoon, James Badge Dale
& John Lavelle in Burleigh Grime$
Buoyed by the crack live band, Warren's direction manages to get a buzz humming around a few manic roundelays of trading frenzy, and Lavelle and Antoon have an infectious, almost improvisatory rapport. But the fizz goes flat whenever Dale's callow, incurious George is onstage. Would it really take such an elaborate ruse to dupe this rich idiot? And are we supposed to root for his downfall, or for Grimes's, or for both? It's more like neither.
Baseball fans may recognize the play's title: The real-life Burleigh Grimes, a grizzled pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was infamous for throwing spitballs. But for all its spit and polish, Kirby's Burleigh Grime$ is the theatrical equivalent of a balk.
Written by Roger Kirby
Directed by David Warren
New World Stages