by: JK Clarke


Stories of malfeasance in the financial services community are not as rare as they ought to be. From David Liss’s exploration of corrupt trading and the South Sea bubble (1720s) in the novel A Conspiracy of Paper to the filmic re-telling of the 2008 housing and finance crisis Margin Call, stock market corruption is a timeless theme. Potomac Theater Project’s (PTP/NYC) Serious Money, takes us back only to the late 1980s when Margaret Thatcher’s deregulation of the British banking system led to rampant greedy maneuvering in attempts to capitalize on the marginalization of the old way of life in the City of London.

These types of stories are retold in various forms for a variety of reasons: first because Greed is one the most commonly recurring of the Seven Deadly Sins; second, because such schemes are second only to murder in their power to strike fear into one’s heart (imagine losing one’s life savings to the arrogance of some entitled man-child!); and lastly, because the stories are fascinating, both in terms of drama and complexity. Crime is the mainstay of most American drama of late — entire television networks are dedicated to real-life crime re-enactment. It’s exciting stuff.

So, in principle, Serious Money should be a slam dunk. With strong performances from the likes of Tara Giordana as Scilla Todd, a sultry upper-class trader who likes to play in the trenches; and Megan Byrne, in cunning dual roles as Marylou Baines, a devious American arbitrageur and stockbroker Mrs. Etherington; and, with a clever, multi-functional set by Hallie Zieselman, director Cheryl Faraone threw everything she had at Caryl Churchill’s script. But, therein lay the problem: despite a classic, yet compelling storyline, Ms. Churchill’s often insipid dialog crashes the production into a wall.

To be fair, Serious Money garnered many awards and saw a successful Broadway run when it debuted in the late 1980s, but it has endured that tacky decade no better than shoulder-pads or hair-metal bands.  The dialog is written in not-very-well metered, poorly matched and distracting rhymes, where “failure” rhymes with “Australia,” and other rhyming pairs are parochial: “junk” and “funk;” “chum” and “gum.” The behavior of the corrupt, evil and sometimes murderous brokers in the play should inspire rage, not whimsical satire and silly rhymes. The dialog is distracting enough that one loses sight of the central point, and hence the play itself. A lost opportunity, to be sure. Other once presumably amusing aspects of the play have been lost to the passing of time as well. Characters like the spicy, sultry South American seniorita! with connections to cocaine distribution networks are laughably cliché. If it’s intentional, it’s hacky and possibly racist. If it’s not, it’s just embarrassing.

Ms. Churchill’s view of the financial world offers very little insight. It feels, unlike other stories of financial philandering, such as the ones mentioned earlier, distinctly like a naïve outsider’s view.

Serious Money’s most serious problem is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. What could have been a gripping tale ends up getting lost in the exchange.

Photos: Stan Barouh

Serious Money. Through August 4 at The Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). (212) 279-4200   www.ticketcentral.com    http:://ptpnyc.org/