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THEATER REVIEW / 'OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY' : Business as Usual : Plaza Players present the dark comedy about a conniving executive and the family-owned company he wants to take over.


There may be no play in the English language more cynical than "Other People's Money," a dark comedy that is the latest production of Ventura's Plaza Players company.

Notable as the directorial debut of Patricia Spickler, the play offers local theatergoers an opportunity to see longtime local automobile dealer John Masterson's portrayal of a jovially conniving businessman.

Written by former real estate agent Jerry Sterner, the play deals with the world of high finance, a somewhat different perspective on the same territory as Oliver Stone's hit film "Wall Street."

In "Other People's Money," a small, family-owned Rhode Island business becomes the target of a hostile takeover by Lawrence "Larry the Liquidator" Garfinkle. If he controls the company, Garfinkle intends to divide and sell its assets. The consequences would be a huge profit to him and the company's other stockholders, but unemployment for a good number of the firm's longtime employees and economic disaster for the company's hometown.

Andrew Jorgensen, the company's owner (and son of its founder) wants to stave off the takeover, but personal ethics force him to resist all of the traditionally accepted methods offered by his second-in-command, Keith Cole. Before the play is over, even audience members totally unfamiliar with the dealings of Wall Street will be able to toss around terms like "golden parachute" and "greenmail," and know the difference between "shark repellent" and a "poison pill."

First produced off-Broadway, Sterner's play moved to Broadway in 1988 and subsequently became a motion picture starring Danny DeVito. No fool, DeVito took the choice role of Garfinkle, a man whose love for the machinations of money results in what virtually everybody on the receiving end of his dealings perceives as ruthlessness.

By comparison (and this is the play's chief fault), the strongly principled Jorgensen may strike many in the audience as a character whose weakness invites disaster. He's so bullheaded in his resistance to Cole's plans that it may be difficult to work up any great sympathy as he submerges for the third time.

One of the many virtues of "Other People's Money" is that Sterner shows both sides. A case can be made for Garfinkle as a hero (at least to stockholders), despite his repellent nature and abrasive personality. A key theme of the play, in fact, is that you can never be sure whom to root for.

Masterson is delightful as wheeler-dealer Garfinkle, as comfortable in the world of stock trading as a vaudevillian would be on the stage of the Palace. His is a vaudevillian delivery, in fact, with Masterson punctuating virtually every sentence with a wave of one or both arms--or with an oversized cigar.

Bob Pease plays Andrew Jorgensen, the all-too-decent head of New England Wire & Cable, and Hugh McManigal portrays Keith Cole, his aggressive second-in-command. Diane Harriman is Jorgensen's ever-loyal assistant, Bea Sullivan, and Mary Super shines as Bea's daughter, an ambitious Wall Street attorney.


"Other People's Money" continues through Nov. 21 at the Plaza Players Theater, 34 North Palm St., in Ventura. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $7 on Wednesdays, $9 on Fridays, and $10 on Saturdays, with group discounts available. For reservations or further information, call 643-9460.

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