Review: Backyard Renaissance’s play ‘Dry Powder’ explodes with energy

In the high-stakes private equity world, “dry powder” is the phrase used for the liquid cash assets a firm has on-hand to quickly invest. It was the original name for gunpowder — the drier it is, the quicker it ignites.

It’s also an apt name for Sarah Burgess’s blazing-fast 2016 play “Dry Powder,” which Backyard Renaissance Theatre Co. opened Friday in a filmed production that streams for just one more weekend. Although the play occasionally gets bogged down in finance-speak and one character is too extreme to feel real, it’s a smart and thoughtful play and it’s well-staged and well-cast.

Director Francis Gercke keeps the tension in the play cranked up high throughout its 80 minutes, and he collaborated well with filmmaker Jonah Gercke, his son, who shot the play from unusual angles and character vantage points, which makes it feel less like a play on film and more like a movie.

The play’s articulate rapid-fire dialogue has the feel of plays by David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin feel, with the self-absorbed, flawed characters of HBO’s “Succession.” There’s no hero in the four-character drama, but — like “Succession” — it’s an entertaining ride.

The play takes place over two weeks at fictional KMM Capital Management in New York. Rick, the CEO, is looking for good press to “change the conversation” after his company laid off thousands of supermarket employees the same day he threw himself a $1 million party.

The cast of Backyard Renaissance Theatre's "Dry Powder."

Javier Guerrero, left, Jessica John, James Hancock III and Carter Piggee, seen from behind, in Backyard Renaissance Theatre’s “Dry Powder.”

(Courtesy photo)

Managing director Seth suggests KMM buy Landmark Luggage, a small U.S. bespoke bag company. Seth has bonded with Landmark’s new CEO, Jeff, and hopes to help build up the cash-poor company with KMM funds. But Seth’s fellow managing director, Jenny, has a different plan: Buy Landmark, then outsource its manufacturing overseas and lay off all its American worker for a quick profit.

The plot twists and turns as Seth and Jenny battle over the deal, while Jeff is kept in the dark and Rick faces the fallout from the protests. There’s a great deal of exposition in the play to bring viewers up to speed on the finance industry and that causes the play to sag a little in its third quarter. But the last 15 minutes is packed with surprises that reveal the nature of all four characters.

Jessica John and Carter Piggee have volcanic chemistry as rivals Jenny and Seth. Piggee plays Seth as a likable and earnest do-gooder who withholds information to reel in Jeff’s firm. John plays Jenny as a brilliant sociopath, who may be cruel but is always honest about her intentions. Jenny gets the play’s best lines, but unfortunately her character is so one-dimensional and monstrous, she’s hard to imagine in real life.

Javier Guerrero plays KMM CEO Rick with a relaxed style that reflects the character’s experience, confidence and lack of empathy. James Hancock III seems a bit young to play the role of Landmark leader Jeff, but he’s believable as a complex man who knows what he needs and the sacrifices he’ll make to get it.

Ross Stewart’s costumes do well at reflecting the personalities of the characters. Tony Cucuzzella designed the luxe office set and Matt Lescault-Wood created the sound. Despite the simplicity of the physical production, Joel Britt’s lighting design pulls it all together with a look that suggests there’s some rot beneath KMM’s glitzy sheen.

“Dry Powder” will be available for streaming Friday through May 2. Tickets are $20 at

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