Thursday June 27, 2013

STEPHANIE L. RYAN

BENINGTON -- Every business tells a story, but there's a great deal more to the tale than the neat columns of the annual report. And sometimes, the tale can strike a little close to home.

For the staff of New England Wire and Cable (established 1912), the purpose of life is to put forth a good product, employ their 1,200 workers, and weather the tides of the modern economy. For the investor who's been watching the numbers and is getting ready to make his move, the money, and the game it represents, is the reason to get out of bed in the morning. Thus the battle lines are drawn for Oldcastle Theatre Company's for "Other People's Money," written by Jerry Sterner and directed by Eric Peterson.

To the strains of "Money Makes the World Go ‘Round," we are introduced first to William Coles (Richard Howe), manager of New England Wire and Cable, whose efforts to keep the firm afloat have led to diversification, and who relies on a promise from owner Andrew "Jorgy" Jorgenson (Phil Lance) that on Jorgy's retirement, the plant will be his to run. Rounding out the management team is Bea Sullivan (Paula Mann), who walked through the doors 38 years ago to become Jorgy's assistant, and has never looked back.

While the wire and cable business is hardly sizzling, the company's footing is solid. Diversification has kept the business in play, and despite economic challenges, the company is debt-free.


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Enter bombastic Wall Street wheeler-dealer Larry "the Liquidator" Garfinkle (Paul Romero), who is unimpressed with the dusty Rhode Island wire plant, but very impressed indeed with its market value - so much so, that he has purchased a not-insignificant quantity of stock in it, driving the price up in the process. Jorgy is cordially pleased. Coles smells a rat - a large, doughnut-munching rat. Need we specify which of the two is correct in his assessment?

In a brilliant use of set design telling part of the story, the brick wall of the wire plant divides and, portentiously, the opening notes of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" sound as Garfinkle's sleek modern office both literally and figuratively intrudes on small-town industry. Garfinkle's goal: Run up the price, force a buyout, and "restructure" the business - a sanitized euphemism for selling off the buildings, land and assets, and pocketing a tidy sum in the process.

It's time for the plant to defend itself; cue Bea's daughter, Kate Sullivan (Jenny Strassburg), a New York attorney who might be fond of a little gaming, herself, and tackles the Garfinkle takeover attempt on behalf of the plant that shut down on the day she was born - so the workers could have cake and celebrate.

Lance and Mann bring old-school, bedrock New England values to their roles, with Jorgy solidly certain that he's following the right path and that his investors, like he and Bea, are in it for the long term. He holds firmly to his values, despite Coles and Kate telling him what Garfinkle is up to, and urging him to take measures that would protect his business. He knows his game, and it's the only one he cares to play.

Oldcastle Associate Artistic Director Howe brings his usual solid chops to manager Coles, in sight of a years-long goal that seems to be slipping away from him.

Strassburg, last seen locally in this spring's production of "A Strange Disappearance of Bees," seems to relish the role of the "wet behind the ears" attorney taking on the womanizing Wall Street juggernaut.

Romero himself is larger than life, sauntering into the offices of the wire plant and using up more oxygen than anyone else in the room, the very image of the Wall Street fat cat on the prowl, and delighted by the challenge, even as he intends to win it.

And the lights drop, to a reprise of the strains of "Money Makes the World Go ‘Round."

Stephanie Ryan can be reached at sryan@benningtonbanner.com. Follow her on Twitter @stefkaryan