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The Mai-Yi Theatre serves up an excellently acted production of Michael Lew's caustic if sometimes confusing comedy about financial profiteering in the age of Obama. logo
Alfredo Narciso
and William Jackson Harper
in Microcrisis
(© Web Begole)
The first thing to know about Microcrisis, Michael Lew's caustic and often confusing comedy about financial profiteers in the age of Obama -- being presented by the Ma-Yi Theater Company at HERE Arts Center -- is that the glossary of investment banker terms in the back of the program won't help you keep up; you either understand the difference between a CDO and a CDS or you don't. (A number of terms, like "loan apps" and "conflict diamonds," don't even rate an explanation -- although, for some reason, "pelvic withdrawal" does).

The second, and more important, thing to know is that the excellent and energetic ensemble, as directed by Ralph B. Peña, is going to entertain you regardless of your acumen. Even one or two of the silent stagehands get a laugh by the end of the evening. The design team, too, is in on the joke -- from set designer Clint Ramos' effective rows of safety deposit boxes, which break apart to reveal various people and props, to the fairly precise lighting and sound designs of Japhy Weideman and Shane Rettig.

Most of the actors prove to be equally sharp in their over-the-top portrayals of both predators and prey in the world of bank credit and small-business loans. One of the best scenes involves a securities rater at Moody's (Jackie Chung) who suffers from both hilariously low self-esteem and a disturbing history with the evening's protagonist, Bennett (Alfredo Narciso), a heartless banker. David Gelles manages to exude charm as an addled jerk from Harvard who seems to have been lifted right out of The Social Network. And it's a joy to watch William Jackson Harper and Socorro Santiago bring nuance and heart into what are basically a gallery of cartoon characters.

Only Lauren Hines occasionally loses her balance by overselling her character, a 19-year-old undergrad named Lydia, who moves from idealistic do-gooder to cutthroat lender at the drop of a blue chip. In Hines' defense, the role needs to be fleshed out by the playwright. Someone in this story crammed with inside jokes and sight gags should be ultimately likeable, and Lydia seems to be the best candidate.

It would also be nice if there were at least one strong female character present. It's an amusing, non-P.C. laugh line that the man (played by Harper) who co-founded the bank for which Bennett works has an offstage penchant for seducing the likes of Angela Merkel and Sarah Palin. But, in the absence of a more impressive woman character onstage, that joke wears thin pretty fast.

Indeed, Lew seems to have many important things to say about the next financial meltdown; but he's lacking a character with whom the audience can more consistently relate in order to drive that cautionary tale home.

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