Remember corporate raiders? The financial guys in the 1980s who bought companies to close them?
Citadel Theatre Company in Lake Forest has Larry the Liquidator right on stage — the shark who swallows vulnerable companies whole by selling off their assets to maximize shareholder value.
Larry Garfinkle is part of the five-person cast of “Other People’s Money” on stage in the 150-seat theater in Lake Forest High School’s West campus on Waukegan Road. He’s a stereotype, but as portrayed by Edward Kuffert, a vivid, dangerous one.
It’s 1987 and he’s set his sights on New England Wire & Cable, a small financially sound factory in Rhode Island with 1,200 employees. Pat Murphy plays its owner, Andrew Jorgensen, whose personal integrity and business model date from post-World War II. Harry Truman is his hero and he has a Norman Rockwell calendar on his wall.
Ironically, it is the company’s debt-free status and modest (read “undervalued”) stock price that makes it attractive to this know-it-all from Wall Street.
The bewildered Jorgensen gets one thing right. When he hears about maximizing shareholder value, it sounds to him like “going out of business.”
But that’s not the whole story playwright Jerry Sterner is trying to tell. The successful Off-Broadway drama opens with Bob Frankel as William Coles, an educated everyman and loyal employee, telling the audience that the aging Jorgensen has promised him that when he retires at 70, two years hence, the business will belong to Coles.
Jorgensen has a secretary, Bea Sullivan, played by the ever-graceful Nancy Sellers, who is devoted to her boss professionally and personally. Bea’s daughter Kate is a lawyer, and at her mother’s insistence arrives to give the firm a little corporate advice and stays to help them fight.
Denice Mahler portrays Kate, a bit of a shark herself, who easily matches wits with the lecherous Larry. When Mahler walks on stage the show ignites, and her performance never dims.
Giving a crash course in corporate jargon, Kate defines “green-mail,” “white knight,” “shark repellent” and “poison pill,” common phrases in the take-over era.
While the play seems to pit the good guys against the bad, it also poses basic questions about the world of commerce. Is a company, as Jorgensen says, worth more than the price of its stock? Yes, of course, But, as Garfinkle asks, don’t you invest in stock to make money? You certainly do.
Robert T. Estrin deftly balances the considerable laughter and genuine pathos in the script. But “Other People’s Money” comes to no firm conclusion, and that is one of its considerable attributes.
The show runs through Sunday, Oct. 28 at 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, with two matinees at 1 p.m. Oct. 10 and 17. Parking is free. For information, call 847-735-8554 or visit www.citadeltheatre.org.