Dry Powder explodes at Aurora Theatre

(L-R) Emily Jeanne Brown as Jenny, Aldo Billingslea as Rick, Kevin Kemp as Jeff, Jeremy Kahn as Seth in Dry Powder at Aurora Theatre.

DRY POWDER: Comedy by Sarah Burgess.  Directed by Jennifer King. Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

June 22- July 22, 20118

Dry Powder explodes at Aurora Theatre Rating: ★★★★☆1/2

Inspiration for a modern play often is based on reality and/or ripped from a headline. Dry Powder being given a powerful production at the intimate Aurora seems to have its origin in both.

The owner of a private equity firm Rick (Aldo Billingslea)) has thrown himself a lavish engagement party costing a million dollars shortly after a national retailer his company had acquired laid off hundreds of workers. It caused public relations disaster and he with the help of two of his handpicked top echelon aides Jenny (Emily Jeanne Brown) and Seth (Jeremy Kahn) are brainstorming how to weather the PR onslaught and replenish their financial reserves (the ‘dry powder’ of the title.)  

Seth advised Rick not to throw the party and Jenny had encouraged him. The basic personal and professional differences between Jenny and Seth are formulated early leading to the conflict that powers the play.

Burgess then takes us on a taut ringside journey of the inner workings of a private equity firm complete with reams of jargon being both didactic and informative but rarely boring. The premise that Burgess has created is a basic difference of the motivations driving the two antagonists while both theoretically being good for business. 

Seth has come up with the plan of buying out a failing American luggage firm at a bargain price, upgrade the quality and target the underserved business population. This would keep the jobs in the U.S., add workers and resolve the PR crisis. He has spent months getting to know Jeff (Kevin Kemp) the CEO of the company who probably is ready to sell his company if there are assurances that it would be hopefully made solvent.

Jenny who prides herself on getting the best return for the dollar has an abrasive demeanor, minimal social life and a clinical mind that crunches numbers looking for even the smallest percentage point of profit. The firm could borrow money with their dry powder as collateral from a shady Asian Banker, liquidate the luggage company and send the work overseas.

With the battle lines formed, Rick encourages each of his underlings to defend the approach they support. As Jenny and Seth prepare and do computational and social battle the personal infighting is brilliantly set forth by Burgess. Jenny is a Harvard Business graduate and has no admiration for those who went to lesser schools like Yale. Yes, Seth went to Yale and a Montessori School and has humanistic tendencies. When he tells Jenny that she is alone in her world she reiterates a line used earlier in the play: “I am never alone. I have a Hawk on my shoulder.”

The role of Jeff is underwritten but Burgess allows his insecurity to be the final point in Rick’s decision making. Aldo Billingslea gives a powerful performance as Rick befitting a ‘take no prisoners’ private equity company leader. As written, he is highly unlikeable and if this a true picture of leaders in the much written about “1%” they deserved to be vilified.

Brown and Kahn give fully rounded performances creating believable personalities in a world that is probably alien to most of the audience. Kevin Kemp’s depiction of Jeff’s insecurity feels real creating audience ambivalence due to his final decision that picks the winner.

Jennifer King’s directorial skills keep the play in balance during the 95 minutes without an intermission. The monochromatic white set with minimal props allows the actors and stage hands to move the three chrome chairs and two tables that double as an office, airplane, waiting room and bar. The epilog given to Jenny does not fully wrap up the play but it is appropriate for turning off the stage lights and allowing one half of the audience to give it a standing ovation.

CAST: Aldo Billingslea as Rick; Emily Jeanne Brown as Jenny; Jeremy Kahn as Seth;  Kevin Kemp as Jeff.

CREATIVE TEAM: Scenic Designer Tanya Orellana;          Lighting Designer Kurt Landisman;Sound Designer & Composer James Ard;Costume Designer Victoria Livingston-Hall; Props Master Mara Ishihara Zinky; Stage Manager Dani Bae.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.

(L-R) Emily Jeanne Brown as Jenny, Aldo Billingslea as Rick, Kevin Kemp as Jeff, Jeremy Kahn as Seth in Dry Powder at Aurora Theatre.