Tuesday, October 05, 2010

THEATER: microcrisis

Photo/Web Begole

Michael Lew's microcrisis begins with an honest plea from Acquah (the always welcome William Jackson Harper), a small Ghanian business owner looking to borrow 200 Cedi (about $120) for his burgeoning cellular phone service. (He sublets his expensive phones, which have monthly plans, to local villagers who pay him for each call.) He is paired up with an equally earnest American intern, Lydia (Lauren Hines), who quotes directly from Citizen Trust's brochure as she explains how their non-profit microloans work (with only 2% interest for operating costs). It's an important scene, devoid of greed and full of laughs, courtesy of Acquah's garrulous humor--"It is a joke," he frequently howls--but mainly because it sets the scene for all the perversion that follows in the wake of Mr. Bennett (a magnificent, Rahm Emanuel-like Alfredo Narciso). It's not long before the naive Lydia is being wooed by the corruption of Bennett's "money bomb" distractions (to say nothing of the constant Klonopin and Lunesta). It is a joke: the kind that's funny both because it's true and because it's so heavily exaggerated, as Lew and director Ralph B. Pena stage a new financial crisis.

Don't be fooled by the unibrowed, bacned, insecure securities rater for Moody's (Jackie Chung), nor by the choreographed movements of Frankfurt (Harper), the racquetball-loving Charmain of the New York Fed. Try not to laugh too much at the slovenly teen genius, Randy (David Gelles, deftly channeling Justin Long) and his emotionally glitchy loan-making CPU (Chung). Understand that while this may be the sort of show that takes a '60s style dance break around a craps table in Monaco, it does so purely because Lew knows exactly what he's talking about--if his characters were any less distorted, the audience members might sniff out Goldman Sachs and rush the stage. The foundations of Lew's work are as solid as the safety-deposit-box walls of Clint Ramos's set, which swing in and out to reveal the various back rooms in which Bennett begins to deregulate his bank, leverage his money, turn the loans into CDOs that he resells as investments to the lenders, and bumps the interest rates up to 12 and eventually 30 percent.

There is, however, too much filling. Lew gets carried away with his juvenalia, and while the multi-cast ensemble is talented enough to keep the manic inflation in check, the end of microcrisis lacks a serious leg on which to stand up for victims like public-school teacher Mrs. Chavez (Socorro Santiago). The nastier bits of fallout still work, and there's one hell of a final scene, but it doesn't fire on all cylinders. Think of it as the lovechild of Aaron Sorkin and Michael Moore: rapid-fire stunts that nonetheless get the efficiently caustic message across. And while greed may not be good, microcrisis's satire of it is at least entertaining.

No comments: