Next Act’s “Microcrisis” yields huge dividends
The satire of our global financial system finds the humor in its ironies – and the danger that still remains.
No play about finance should be as good as Microcrisis has managed to be. Next Act’s latest is funny, intelligent and – most importantly – doesn’t require a business degree to understand.
The satire, written by Mike Lew, is designed to depict the next world-shaking financial crisis, a la the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008. Here, it’s caused by ruthless banker Bennett (Next Act artistic director David Cecsarini) and his two pawns: Lydia (Alexandra Bonesho), a naïve do-gooder Bennett puts in charge of a company that makes small “microloans” to impoverished Ghanaian entrepreneurs, and Randy (Michael Cotey), a Harvard grad who Bennett recruits for his innovative website pairing Harvard alumni with students who need business investors.
With those two companies under his thumb, Bennett is able to unofficially fuse them together, giving him the capital to issue millions of loans until the impoverished businessmen collapse under the weight of their interest, pulling the global economy down with them.
If that sounds complicated already, it gets worse, but don’t worry. No matter how much financebabble Microcrisis throws at you, the gist of what’s going on is always clear.
The humor is also easy to get, primarily because it’s based almost exclusively on the ironies and loopholes the average American can see in our financial system, rather than highly technical in-jokes you need an MBA to laugh at.
Cecsarini plays him without much nuance, and I’m of two minds about that decision. Part of me wants Bennett to be more than a one-note character whirling about the world and chipping away at global stability without an ounce of pity. Then again, Cecsarini plays that note exquisitely. In a satire such as Microcrisis, having a flat character as dynamic as Bennett is something to be praised, not denounced.
Bonesho and Cotey get the opportunity for depth lacking elsewhere. Both experience parallel leaps to power, but no matter how arrogant the inexperienced Lydia appears, Bonesho carries herself with an air that undercuts the bravado. Cotey does the opposite; even at his most juvenile level of glee at his rise, he’s always keeping an eye out for a back door in case of emergencies.
Holding the play together are figures in the world of finance who facilitate the rise of microcredit and the civilians destroyed by its fall. John Kishline, as Frankfurt, the founder of Bennett’s bank and current member of the Fed, is borderline-Bond-villainous for much of Microcrisis, but it works well for the satirical tone of the play.
Less successful is Mary Kababik as Clare, a representative of the credit rating firm Moody’s. Her scenes with Cescarini and Kishline come off as preposterous farce, thanks to hysterical weeping about the way Bennett and other financiers have previously lied to her about the safety of their bonds. She’s much better in some of her additional roles, though, including a hilarious bit as the voice of a software program robocalling investors.
And then there’s Erica Cruz Hernandez and Lee Palmer, who play the most integral roles in the entire play: the people who get screwed. You could lump Lydia in that group, but director Edward Morgan has made sure you feel worse for people like Hernandez’s Mrs. Chavez, who starts off trying to help a (made-up) college student go to Mexico and ends up losing her entire life savings, or Palmer’s Acquah, a Ghanaian businessman who gets a loan from Lydia initially saves his business before utterly destroying him.
Despite all the laughs, Microcrisis has no happy ending. How can it? Even if everything turned out all right for its characters, we’d still be walking out of the theater with the sure knowledge this can happen. Again.