America owes the world big-time. To the tune of $1 trillion a year for at least the next decade. Capitalism hasn’t fared well for the United States for some time, contrary to what our six-business-bankruptcies-in-chief would have us believe. America’s personal credit score is, at the moment, a giant I.O.U. But, what about all those times in the past when our banks were so high-and-mighty they left entire countries high and dry?
New York, 1978: Banks are living large off of the debts of up-and-coming countries, with bankers like John (William Anthony Sebastian Rose II) weighing their ethical bounds. With his conman father’s shadow ever-looming, John is constantly telling himself that he’s different. He is determined to be more than his father. He won’t take advantage of people or lose sight of what’s right. Right?
Beth Steel’s play is dizzying. Though the show is an at-times-painful two-and-a-half hours, it largely runs at breakneck speed. Steel wants to entrap us in John’s world. It’s like “Wolf of Wall Street” in more ways than one. (Including that it’s about thirty minutes too long.) It isn’t that the story is uninteresting, it’s just that the runtime asks that we care more about the characters and what they’re going through. But these bankers, dictators and wheelers and dealers aren’t likable. In the same vein, they aren’t so passionately dislikable either.
John’s relationship with his increasingly omnipresent father Frank, played by a devilishly delightful Darren Jones, is what makes this play. Jones and Rose work as yin and yang, each taking a little from the other as they circle the stage. There is good in each as well as evil, which compels their characters ever onward. Ambrose Cappuccio’s unnerving dictator holds the balance of John’s life in his hands, bringing the tension this show wants eagerly to achieve. All of this makes for a circa-1978 warning to the present day.
It’s easy for Steel’s play to get wrapped up in its own labyrinth. In getting stuck in a maze of its own creation, we are not given enough from the characters to feel attached to them. As a journalist, the person I felt strongest about was business journo Grace (Elise Marie Davis) because she’s a mouse trapped in a maze of someone else’s creation. The choices of the bankers, as well as investors, decide her career trajectory. Like the smattering of other women in the show, her life is dependent on men making choices.
In her introduction to the play, Steel talks about being wrapped up in the events of the Lehman Brothers downfall. It was the first time in her life that she felt “gripped” by such an event. That much is clear in this play. The circumstances are dire, the industry is corrupt and those who are in it determine the fate of the world’s economy. What’s unclear is why we should care about this particular protagonist. (Amanda Finn)
Broken Nose Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee, (773)697-3830, brokennosetheatre.com, Pay what you can. Through February 29.