By summer they may be living the lives of starving artists, but on Wednesday night they were on the money. A horny and hungry new comedy at the Yale Repertory Theater, “Serious Money,” is the perfect foil for the flashy talents of the Yale School of Drama’s 2002 graduating class.
Directed by Jean Randich DRA ’94, the muscular, fast-moving show whips through the ins and outs of a dodgy financial deal.
Set against the background of the “Big Bang,” a frenzied period of speculation after the London Stock Exchange was opened to foreign investors in 1986, “Serious Money” is a nasty swipe by playwright Caryl Churchill at an industry and a decade. Alternately liquored silly, coked up, and smothered in money, the characters revel in vicious excess that constantly shocks without ever pushing the action past the audience’s saturation point.
For an experienced cast of near-masters of fine arts who have already sold their talents to New York and “California Dreams” (among other places), it’s a perfect display for startling comedic and dramatic skill.
The show is virtually emceed by the toothpaste-smiley Zackerman (William Theodore Thompson DRA ’02), an operative at an American bank who alternately ingratiates and aggravates, teasing the audience with his sly-eyed grin. He only meets his match — good riddance, maybe — in the second half with the appearance of the feline, filthy rich Jacinta Condor (Jeanine Serralles DRA ’02). Jacinta is a Peruvian investor whose triple-timing leaves her competitors breathless.
Called in by corporate raider Billie Corman (Frank Liotti DRA ’02) — a mini-Mephistopheles, as indicated by the horns that protrude from his exuberantly obnoxious head — Zack’s job is to help Corman pull off a hostile takeover of Mr. Duckett’s (Derek Milman DRA’02) firm. The firm is aptly named Albion (England, get it? Real subtle– This show’s like that but it’s OK).
Corman plans to secretly purchase a majority of Albion’s stock, throw out the company’s management, and break it up into smaller pieces. All, of course, with capital from Jacinta and tough-as-nails American financier MaryLou Baines (Bridget Flanery DRA ’02), plus the expert help of respected broker Mrs. Etherington (Bess Wohl DRA ’02). This is all typical arch-villain stuff in the ’80s “business world” genre.
When Jake Todd (Brad Heberlee DRA ’02), the do-nothing insider-trading son of the brokerage firm owner (a fantastically wild-eyed Milman) shows up dead, his sister Scilla (Tamilla Woodard DRA ’02) decides to track down his killer and his cash.
The entire cast has talent in excess, but in an ensemble of 16, it’s inevitable that a few performances stand out. In particular, the scenes between Thompson and Serralles became a duel of charisma between his phony sincerity and her predatory grace. As a semi-deranged aristocrat, Milkman was preposterously crazy but transfixing.
All of the actors run rampant over the bare-bones metallic set, whose scaffold-like sides and fire pole enabled the fast-moving, almost athletic direction by Randich. Periodically flooded with deep green light, so symbolic of the show’s predominant themes of envy and money, the set perfectly reflects the ’80s’ futuristic aesthetic of shiny sterility.
The show is propelled by rhythm: both acts end with percussive musical numbers. Almost unspoiled by murky moments, “Serious Money” has got the bubble and fizz of a glass of Dom Perignon.