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Burleigh Grime$: How Dull, Dow Jones


The Renaissance alchemists tried to derive gold out of lead. In directing Roger Kirby's new play, Burleigh Grime$, David Warren makes a valiant effort to derive gold out of turkey. His slick, sexy, often dazzling and fast-moving production is sharp and invigorating, but the inept, dull and unfunny script is theatrical tryptophan.

The title of this intended Wall Street satire comes from major league baseball pitcher, Burleigh Grimes, who specialized in throwing a spitball; moistening up the ball here and there to make his pitches move unpredictably. The pitch was banned in 1920, but the 17 pitchers who were known to use it were allowed to keep spittin' until they retired. In a sense, Burleigh Grimes ended his career as the last pitcher who was legally allowed to do something illegal.

Does this have anything to do with the plot of Burleigh Grime$? I'm assuming Kirby is trying to make a connection somewhere between the ballplayer and his identically monikered title character played by Mark Moses, a flashy stock broker who embodies every negative cliché generally associated with powerful Wall Street types. Apparently he's a genius who is able to manipulate the media by inventing false threats (example of his fiction are said to be El Nino, mad cow disease and global warming) and uses the ensuing panic to his investing advantage. Grimes' new assistant is George (James Badge Dale), the son of a former professional rival. With the help of flunkies Hap and Buck (Jason Antoon and Jon Lavelle), Grimes plots revenge by having the newbie framed for insider trading.

Assisting him is Elizabeth (Wendie Malick), the TV host of a stock tip show called Inside Trader (Get it? Inside Trader? Ha, ha!) where she reports breaking news like how eBay and Google are planning to merge into a giant corporation called eBagel. Elizabeth's assistant, Grace (Ashley Williams) is a former college flame of George who isn't afraid to lie and steal in order to break a news story about Wall Street corruption. (This is a play where even the honest people are dishonest.)

And then there's Nancy Anderson, the immensely talented musical theatre singer/dancer/actress whose talents are quite wasted playing three rather inconsequential roles named "Coffee Girl", "Dancer" and "Wife." As Coffee Girl she is required to wear tight business clothes, stick out her boobs and butt, and provocatively pour coffee for the men. The dancer she plays is a stripper, mindlessly pole dancing in skimpy outfits (a g-string for those who stay for Act II) while the guys talk shop. She gets to say lines as Grimes' wife, where the running gag is how the couple has set their voice activated cell phones to the words "bitch" and "asshole" to automatically call each other.

The actors all give polished and professional performances, doing what they can with Kirby's uninspired dialogue and plot that seems to fizzle into nothing shortly into Act II. Another "cast member" is the hyper-energetic Jim Cramer, host of an actual TV show called Mad Money, who appears in video segments which I assume are meant to be clips of his program interpolated into what's left of the plot. I don't want this man near what little money I have. He scares me.

But despite the script, there are plenty of excellent contributions to Burleigh Grime$. David Yazbek has composed a muscular, heavily rhythmned rock score played by a live band under music director Dean Sharenow. Andy Blankenbuehler stages an impressive ballet of sorts to open the play; an exciting display of the controlled chaos that hits the office every weekday from 9:30 to 4:00. The wildly kinetic movement is enhanced Jeff Crotier (lights) and Peter Fitzgerald (sound) who help create an aura of rock n' roll machismo.

Less effective are sequences where characters start dancing with each other during long dialogue scenes. It's a good idea, using dance to symbolize mutual manipulation, but it requires better dancers doing more involved routines.

Gregory Gale's costumes make the cast look sharp, pressed and ready to take over the world, and James Youmans' skyline-inspired set is just right.

But despite best efforts, director Warren's terrific vision of slick Wall Street backstabbing is done in by a play that's simply a bad investment of time.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Jason Antoon, James Badge Dale and John Lavelle

Center: Mark Moses and Wendie Malick

Bottom: James Badge Dale, Nancy Anderson, John Lavelle

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From This Author Michael Dale