As Kirby sees it, greed is not just a positive thing, it's the only thing. Well, actually, one other dark impulse -- namely revenge -- motivates the hyperkinetic Burleigh Grimes (played by Desperate Housewives star Mark Moses) into hiring George Radbourn (James Badge Dale), the son of an old enemy. Burleigh, who's brilliant at manipulating stocks up or down to his own advantage, has it in mind to get back at George's father, the never-seen Henry Radbourn, by implicating the seemingly naive young man in a series of insider trading scams. He's abetted by an old girlfriend, the brittle business commentator Elizabeth Bigley (Wendie Malick), and two in-house sharklets, Buck (John Lavelle) and Hap (Jason Antoon.)
Evidently unaware of the peril that he's in, George does his best to ingratiate himself with Burleigh while rekindling a romance with his former college flame Grace Redding (Ashley Williams) -- who happens to be Elizabeth's new assistant. Grace is also determined to make her own on-camera reputation by exposing Wall Street for the corrupt, money-grubbing casino that it is. Each of the characters is bent on double-crossing everyone else -- even Burleigh's self-involved wife Carmen (Nancy Anderson).
Kirby's point is that things are proceeding as usual on Wall Street -- that big business is still bad business. But we know that already. And, totally loathsome as these characters are, they've all been seen before. Worse yet, with the possible exceptions of George and Grace, Kirby's connivers aren't the sort of people with whom anyone would want to spend much time. When writing a satire, it's not absolutely necessary to create a character with whom the audience sympathizes from start to finish, but it's risky to eschew such a figure as Kirby does. These predators with their dizzying plots to undo one another eventually become wearying. Indeed, given that the play ends in an unsatisfactory rush, Kirby himself may have wanted to slip away from them as quickly and quietly as possible.
Director David Warren has outfitted the production with any number of decorations that may be meant as enhancements -- but can also be experienced as distractions. To begin with, there are two drummers and two guitarists who play the clangorous music specially composed by David Yazbek (who wrote the score for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Full Monty). Warren has also brought in choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler to provide movement for many of the players. Shuffling around James Youmans' set, with its ergonomic chairs, catwalk and movable staircase, the cast offers a metaphor for the ominous Wall Street tango. As a final touch, video clips abound, with CNBC financial expert Jim Cramer -- a shark extraordinaire -- putting in a few bug-eyed appearances.
Warren has prompted his players not to flinch from nastiness, which is undoubtedly the only approach to take under the circumstances. Moses is lubricious as an oil slick and every bit as grimy. Malick has the right butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth toughness and her final confrontation with Burleigh sends sparks flying. But she can't quite bring off Kirby's topical jokes about Dick Cheney and George Bush. (To her credit, no one could.) Lavelle and Antoon work together like a stripe-tied Gallagher and Sheen, while Dale and Williams adroitly portray the tainted twentysomethings. A special nod goes to Anderson, who does what she can with the poorly written Carmen -- and whose also shows up as a non-speaking office coffee pourer and a scantily clad go-go girl. She deserves better.
Throughout Burleigh Grime$, there's a fair amount of talk about selling short, a not uncommon stock trading strategy. But there's no call to sell this play short; it does that handily enough for itself.