Based loosely on the meltdown at General Electric, the play is about the struggles of the CEO of a troubled conglomerate to deliver what he must every quarter, regardless of the problems the company faces: shareholder value.
By Jacquelyn Claire
SHAREHOLDER VALUE is a fast paced docu-style drama from playwright Tom Attea. Or it could be aptly titled, “The Stockmarket Crash – for Dummies” or “A Change of Heart.” We are placed right at the desk of a high powered CEO pre-, during and post the financial crisis of 2008. It’s a hot seat. Financial jargon hurtles towards us like buckshot. We catch fragments, concepts and business speak in the heady atmosphere of the office of a titan of industry. Billions of dollars are made and lost in mere sentences. You feel the adrenaline, the fever, associated with transacting with vast sums of money and how easily it can all be lost. The chaos is underscored by pulsating, urgent music composed by Arthur Abrams. This story is loosely based on the meltdown at General Electric – in our fictional world we are at Total Electric with Jerry Ingram (Dennis Holland) at the helm. We see the iceberg approaching and can only sit on the side lines re-arranging the deck chairs on this impending Titanic failure… It’s captivating.
Tom Attea’s text is educative and entertaining. At first the finance speak can seem alienating but slowly the concepts become clearer and you are able to grasp the intrinsic make-up of this particular universe. The essence of this piece hinges on the idea that having to deliver shareholder value every quarter epitomizes a lack of long term vision and results in shortsighted quick fixes. It’s a text that makes you feel clever – you are given enough information to draw your own conclusions. The answer seems ridiculously simple. From the outside you can see the crash waiting to happen and how easy it would be to take a different course if they would only allow themselves to see the wood for the trees.
I also liked the way Attea gives us both the public and private realms of the CEO. We get to go to work with Jerry as he navigates spinning off divisions and green lighting cutbacks, i.e., losing a lot of money. It’s a high pressure environment where everyone seems one step away from cardiac arrest.
Back home, wife Angela (Debbie Bernstein) nurtures her husband into a calm vortex where he can discard the day. However, his nights belong to the ghost of Thomas Edison who disturbs his sleep with warnings and pleas – he wants Jerry to remember the lightbulb and stay true the the founding product of the entire business. This is not a vision he can embrace…just yet. Jerry has the support of his CFO Don O’Day (Matt Gorsky) and his administrative assistant Emily Adams (Kristen Tripolitis) who are 100% on his side no matter what foolish plan he embarks on. He is locked in a battle with an activist investor and a slighted ex-employee. No one is really the winner at the end of the day. These office politics are now the stuff of history and as we take a peep at what went on behind the boardroom doors we find human beings at their most hedonistic and most vulnerable. It’s an absorbing work.
Director Mark Marcante has created a strong outline for the actors to color in. A bold set with an almost filmic score defines the experience as each doorway leads to a different world of status, stress and longing. This is a really tight production that looks like it had a substantial rehearsal period. Marcante has coaxed great performances from the actors.
Dennis Holland as the proud peacock of the financial kingdom is fabulous. He has a mighty presence on stage with a powerful voice and is completely believable as the alpha male facing unwanted competition from the young bucks. He gives a layered, honest performance that really drew me in. Matt Gorsky as the second in command, just in the shadow character is a perfect foil for the brass band loud Jerry. He gives a sensitive, well crafted performance as the man unable to truly step into his own light. Kristen Tripolitis as the obsessive compulsive, perfectionist admin assistant is a vibrant energy on stage – completely focused and detailed in her character choices. I enjoyed her ability to play sensual and strident in the role of Emily who teeters on the line between professional conduct and personal desire. Debbie Bernstein gives us a warm, loving, distracted wife who doesn’t completely grasp her husbands plight. She is a charming performer with an elegant grace that pervades the stage whenever she makes an entrance.
Benjamin Russell as the annoying Curt Preston is our divine antagonist. He perfectly gets under your skin with his self importance and bullying tactics. Joe Candelora as the ex-employee turned board member, Bill Hill, drips with self pity and a lust for revenge. I particularly enjoyed his outburst at Jerry detailing his depressing journey after losing his job. His humiliation and rage were palpable. Bill McAndrews as Thomas Edison was simply delightful – I wouldn’t mind being visited by him in my dreams. He has a devilish twinkle in his eyes and is entirely lovable – he brings the heart to the whole story.
Theater for the New City’s Crystal Field presents another solid world premiere. This thought provoking play reminds us to keep vigilant and stay true to the tangible.
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The play chronicles his efforts to spin off divisions and make cutbacks, from the financial crisis of 2008 to the present, as the cost unfolds of his short-sighted thinking to the company, the employees, and finally to himself. The fictional company, Total Electric, was, like GE, founded by Thomas Edison, who makes a surprise appearance.
Shareholder Value is scheduled to be presented for a 4-week run from March 21-April 14, 2019, by Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (10th Street), New York, NY 10003.
Photos: Maria Baranova