Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lowdown on high finance in 'Dry Powder'

Jenny (Emily Jeanne Brown) states her case to Rick (Aldo Billingslea) as Seth (Jeremy Kahn) listens skeptically.

The cutthroat nature of private equity investing comes to the fore in “Dry Powder,” presented by Aurora Theatre Company.

The term “dry powder” refers to a firm’s liquidity available for investments.

In this drama by Sarah Burgess, Rick (Aldo Billingslea), founder and president of a private equity firm in New York City, wants to invest its cash on hand. Seth (Jeremy Kahn), a co-founding director, believes he has found a luggage company that would make a great investment.

Jenny (Emily Jeanne Brown), the other co-founding director, doesn’t agree, saying Seth’s idea wouldn’t work as presented.

Rather than retaining all of the employees and keeping production in Sacramento, as Seth proposes, she would keep only a few top people there and move production overseas where costs are cheaper. Most employees would lose their jobs.

The luggage company’s CEO, Jeff (Kevin Kemp), wants to continue as is or he won’t agree to the acquisition.

Jenny and Seth argue as they state their case, each trying to sway Rick, who has the final say.

Rick is already under intense criticism because he threw a lavish engagement party, complete with an elephant, on the very day that he oversaw mass layoffs at a newly acquired company.

Director Jennifer King keeps the action taut and allows each actor to create a strong character.

Billingslea, already an imposing presence, is blunt and imperious as Rick, demanding obedience by his colleagues. On the other hand, neither Kahn as Seth nor Brown as Jenny is reluctant to speak up.

Jenny (Emily Jeanne Brown) and Seth (Jeremy Kahn) wait uncomfortably.
Moreover, they don’t like each other, often bickering and exchanging insults until Rick intervenes.

While Rick, Seth and Jenny are complex characters whose motives aren’t always pure, Jeff comes across as more determined to do the right thing until presented with an offer he can’t refuse.

Burgess doesn’t paint a pretty picture of high finance, but it seems realistic. In one scene that got laughs from the audience, Rick says he plans to build a school in Bali. 

He wants an impressive building with his name on it (like Trump Tower?).
Tanya Orellana’s streamlined set works well, complemented by Kurt Landisman’s lighting and by James Ard’s sound and music.

The New York characters wear tailored business attire by costume designer Victoria Livingston-Hall, while California-based Jeff is more casual.

An absorbing drama, “Dry Powder” runs about 95 minutes without intermission. It will continue through July 22 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St. Berkeley.

For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit

(Photos by David Allen)