Review of “Other People’s Money” presented by LCC Center Stage - runs through June 2
By Ed Phillips
Famed 20th century economist Joseph Shumpeter coined the term "creative destruction" to explain the process by which the capitalist system’s markets generate progress, improve living standards and introduce new products. In this description, he delineated the crucial role of the entrepreneur in the innovative process.
The play “Other People’s Money” clearly develops the role of financial capital in lubricating this process. Although written and performed off Broadway in the late 1980s and made into a movie in 1991, “Other People’s Money” remains surprisingly relevant today. Bain Capital’s (some might say Pain Capital) role in reallocating resources in our economy is just an extension of what Lawrence Garfinkle, aka Louie the Liquidator, is performing in the play. His final speech at the stockholders' meeting is as good a summary of financial capital’s putative role in economic progress that I have seen on stage or screen. It is Mitt Romney, only more coherent. The theatergoer has a unique opportunity to emerge from the play with a basic understanding of the role of private equity firms in our economy.
The play’s author, Jerry Sterner, has a clear understanding of modern finance and the conflict between economic progress and tradition. The play is an anatomy of a hostile takeover of a small manufacturing firm in a declining domestic industry. A financial analysis indicates the firm is worth more in pieces than as an operating firm. The owner wants to save the firm. It is the stakeholders vs. the stockholders. The dialogue clearly explores the real issues involved and, to my taste, plays no favorites. It is a very well written drama and the cast is up to the task.
The Center Stage’s intimate stage is the ideal venue. The minimalist staging — two desks, two tables and several chairs — strengthens the emotional content of the play. The viewer is forced to concentrate on the dialogue.
The play has five principals. Three of the principals want to defend the firm at all costs and represent the view of the local community’s stakeholders. The plant manager is sympathetic to these views but recognizes the economic reality of the situation and hedges his bets.
The inexorable force in the play is Larry the Liquidator, excellently played by Corey Farmer. Larry only responds to balance sheets and income statements. Community values and tradition are doomed. The reality is that the play’s least sympathetic character is the play’s strongest character. Larry gives voice to the logic of finance capitalism. His speech to the stockholders should be required reading in every introductory business and economics class. The same battle has been played and replayed in communities worldwide since the industrial revolution. Stability and progress are antithetical. To paraphrase Steve Martin: progress is not pretty.
I saw the movie starring Danny DeVito, Gregory Peck, Penalope Ann-Miller, Dean Jones, Piper Laurie and Tom Aldridge. It was a good movie until the last 5 minutes. Hollywood had to introduce a duex ex machina to soften the ending. The play’s ending is much better.
LCC Center Stage, directed by Don Correll, has added a final final to the play. The theatergoer can vote as a stockholder as they leave the theater. You can guess how I voted.
If You Go:
Other People’s Money • May 24-26 and May 31-June 2, 7pm.
Tickets: $7– $8
LCC Rose Center for the Arts,
15th Avenue and Washington Way, Longview, Wash
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Kalama resident Ed Phillips is a retired economist and spent many years misleading students and governmental agencies. Hollywood seems incapable of understanding economic reality. This playwright is a pleasant exception to this general observation. If interested, you can find more of Mr. Phillips' views on his blog: thelongviewpost.blogspot.com.