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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Absurdity is, in fact, the fuel that propels this lame new comedy whose chief anti-hero (don't look for any good guys here) is named after a baseball pitcher instead of a lizard, as was Gordon Gekko, the greedy guy in the movie Wall Street. What Mr. Kirby seems to be after here is to create a new genre of stage comedy. To do so he has borrowed freely from here, there and everywhere: His dialogue is infused with lots of Wall Street jargon and often delivered as if it were part of an old black and white detective movies. The plot blends touches of Wall Street, All About Eve and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The inclusion of music by Dirty Rotten Scoundrels composer David Yazbek suggests a dancing update of The Singing Detective. To add to the trendiness, there are segues to snippets of broadcasts by the anti-heroine (Malick) and CNBC's own Jim Mad Money Cramer.
I've probably overlooked a few ingredients in this multi-flavored brew. It's quite obviously geared to upwardly mobile young audiences. But, though director David Warren has done his best to keep it bubbling, when all is said and done, it all adds up to more style than substance. The characters are not just unlikeable, but also totally devoid of dimension and originality.
By the time Moses' Burleigh has pitched his last spitball it turns out that his story is just a slicked-up version of the old poor boy who scrambles to the top of the success ladder lugging a bagful of resentment and grudges on his shoulder. (The real Burleigh was one of the last pitchers for whom an exception was made to use a baseball pitch in which the ball was altered by the application of some other foreign substance, like spit). Our Burleigh's resentment and his own r'aison d'être for spitballing is neatly summed up in a remark about the man he most resents, one Henry Radbourn: "Things came easy for Henry. . .the rules were bent for him from the cradle. He didn't understand that others -- people who had to fight their way up from nothing -- had to do their own bending -- had to make a few crimps in those rules."
The sub-plot is no less riddled with familiar elements: Burleigh's hostile wife (Nancy Anderson, who also plays a sinuous office coffee fetcher and a barely clad bar dancer) and an invention by her late geologist brother. . .broadcaster Bigley's high-minded assistant Grace Redding (Ashley Williams) and her relationship with the Radbourn heir (James Badge Dale) who is caught up in Burleigh's get rich (while getting even) scheme as he "crimps" more than a few Wall Street rules.
James Youmans has created an effective and slick two-level set. The musicians are positioned at either side of the upper level, with the center used for various visual effects and the interspersed broadcast snippets. The main playing area serves as the Grimes office and several other locations. If you come early, you'll see the traders working for Grimes assembling at their computers and doing warm-up and relaxing exercises in anticipation of the big clock up above reaching the 9:30 mark when the bell signaling the opening of the exchange -- and the play-- will ring.
For a very short spell the frantic " buy" and "sell" activity and bursts of music and dance gyrations are intriguing. However, as the plot thickens and the machinations that will validate the advance press promise about bad deeds always being rewarded evolves, trendy becomes tiresome and the second act needs the propulsive music to keep you from dozing off.
Mark Moses and Wendie Malick, both plucked from the ever growing list of television stars looking to enhance their resumes with stage credits, are okay as the romantically involved title character and the tough telecaster. However, the best performances come from John Lavelle as Buck and Ashley Williams as the wannabe muckraker and from Nancy Anderson during her brief speaking part. While Anderson has plenty of opportunity to show off her lovely body, her considerable talents are embarassingly wasted here.
Having just seen Neil LaBute's latest play which also plays around with the letter "s" (Some Girl(s), I left the theater wishing Roger Kirby had LaBute's gift for dialogue. It is that gift that makes the contrivances in LaBute's play work. Unfortunately, it's Kirby's inability to create memorable and incisive dialogue and characters that makes Burleigh Grime$ a penny stock investment at a hot stock ticket price.
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