‘Shareholder Value’ Has the Dramatic Tension of a Saint Bernard Sleeping on a Sheepskin Rug… Am I Even Right For This Job Anymore?

 

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CEO Jerry Ingram (Dennis Holland) alongside his adoring secretary (Kristen Tripolitis, left) and his stalwart wife (Debbie Bernstein).

Reviewed by Gregor Collins

Maybe I’m not the “write” guy for these anymore. Maybe Theater That Matters would do better hiring a reviewer who doesn’t work in “the business,” who goes to their job everyday at the arboretum—I love arboretums by the way—who has just the right amount of dispassionate fondness for theater that gets them out of the house every once in awhile. But I have to believe that people want to read my take because I’m not the arborist who has an arms-lengthed appreciation for theater, I have a PASSION for it, and I both write and revere stories that at least attempt to take no prisoners on their way to the truth. So, I don’t know, maybe I do belong here so you can get that brutal, blue-collar opinion about how to spend your Friday evening.

And for your Friday evening I’m recommending something fun. So, not Shareholder Value. It comes down to this: Just like the stock market fluctuates, just like it ebbs and it flows, so should the energy in a play—unfortunately it’s not what this one does. It was a completely flat market.

Based loosely on the beginning of the meltdown at General Electric around 2008, Shareholder Value, written by Tom Attea, is about the struggles of the CEO of a troubled conglomerate to deliver what he must every quarter. Like all CEO’s of publicly held conglomerates, Jerry Ingram (Dennis Holland)—who looks like Russell Crowe’s slightly older, much better looking brother—of the fictional company Total Electric, must deliver one thing: shareholder value. Ingram scrambles to implement shortsighted ways to deliver quarterly profits, including spinning off divisions, green lighting cutbacks and consistently favoring quick fixes over long-term strategy. An activist investor challenges his leadership, and when the CEO decides to sell the light-bulb division, TE’s founder, Thomas Edison, haunts his dreams. When the stock continues to tumble and debt mounts, the cost of his actions becomes increasingly apparent to his shareholders, his employees, and finally to himself.

This all sounds compelling enough. But it was (aside from the Russell Crowe reference) plucked word-for-word from the press release… and press releases, because they’re doing their job, tend to be more compelling than the plays they summarize.

The script was a snorefest, and the actors, though they brought an energy, brought a counterintuitive energy that didn’t help. You could have plucked every one of them from an episode of the 1950’s Sitcom Leave it to Beaver, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, for a play that’s about one of the most intensely contentious times in recent financial history, the casting felt from the wrong century, injecting it with an incomprehensible flatness throughout entire evening.

Dennis Holland was reasonably watchable, having that Alan Thicke-esque 90’s television-dad-charisma, but it worked to his disadvantage during “heated” exchanges (I use “heated” very loosely here), as even times where we craved seeing his dark or mercurial side, he had only congenial guffaws to give us, as if acting in an after-school special, thwarting any potential for us to be truly invested in his rise and ultimate demise as CEO of TE.

I won’t go into many specifics about where things went wrong, because for me the lack of dramatic tension, anywhere, made the entire play wrong. There were double-whammies all over the place: scenes and plotlines that were introduced for no reason and then never paid off.

Even the “music” (Arthur Abrams, Composer) was depressingly lifeless. There wasn’t really music, there were transitional jingles in between scenes, arranged in such a way that it was sort of like hearing a 9-year-old tenuously playing the xylophone four rooms down the hall. And the director (Mark Marcante), who was savvy enough to play cable news clips from actual shows during transitions to make us feel like we were following the crisis in real-time and real-life, only added to the bizarre dramatic coma we were forced into, as the news clips had no audio and did very little to add any tension because we were already seeing a play devoid of it. Perhaps if the clips and transitions were done in a more intensely auditory way we could have at least experienced the jolt of something that felt… important.

Watching Shareholder Value was akin to, and about as entertaining as, watching an episode of a show on CNBC. The exchanges were filled with all the accurate financial jargon, yet it was in a script that gave us no reason to care. Good theater in my opinion, especially in the Off-Off Broadway world, can’t be about transcribing life, as this show does, it has to be about elevating it.

I don’t sit down in theaters champing at the bit to run home and write reviews like this. I’m like a casting director: there’s nothing I want more than to see that shining human strut through the door, read a line, and freeze time.

The cast: Debbie Bernstein, Joe Candelora, Matt Gorsky, Dennis Holland, Bill McAndrews, Benjamin Russell, and Kristen Tripolitis.

SHAREHOLDER VALUE will play a limited engagement from March 21st through April 14th at Theater For the New City (155 1st Avenue at East 10th Street), with official opening on Saturday, March 30th. Tickets, priced $10-$15, may be purchased online through SmartTix or by calling (212) 868-4444 or the box office at (212) 254-1109.

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