Jay Sullivan, John Feltch and Elizabeth Bunch in Dry Powder
Jay Sullivan, John Feltch and Elizabeth Bunch in Dry Powder
Photo by Lynn Lane

Dry Powder at the Alley: When Profit Motives Collide in Business

Sarah Burgess went to New York University to major in filmmaking. She soon focused on writing and eventually that led to playwriting, although she had no experience with theater at her high school, she says.

She saw plays as an opportunity to write in a certain style. "I like when people talk a lot, and that seemed appropriate for theater," she says. Also, "I thought plays can be produced more easily. What I didn’t realize is that it’s really competitive and hard and takes luck to get your play done."

And yet here she is a success story with Dry Powder, a play set amid the tensions of a company’s profit motives and coming to Houston to be performed by Alley Theatre Company members and an Alley Theatre veteran.

Rick (John Feltch) throws himself an expensive engagement party, understandable since he’s the head of his private equity firm. What’s not so explainable is that he’s done this the same week his company forced huge layoffs at a national grocery store chain.

How to repair the public relations damage?

Jenny (Elizabeth Bunch) operates with a profit-first outlook, but as Burgess says, she’s not evil. “She’s very honest and she’s often right.” Meanwhile a kinder, gentler Seth (Jay Sullivan) has proposed a deal to his boss to invest in an American luggage company run by Jeff (Chris Hutchison). The Alley Theatre production is a Texas premiere.

Burgess is off to a fast start in her career, getting her play accepted and then performed by the likes of  Claire Danes, John Krasinski and Hank Azaria in New York City.  She won the 2016 Laurents/Hatcher Prize and was a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist for Dry Powder, which premiered at the Public Theater. She says she's now working on a play about a Washington, D.C. lobbyist.

She had no special expertise in private equity firms, but became interested in them because of news reports she was seeing and decided to focus on that world.

"Even not being an expert in these things, you would sort of know people whose employment options were maybe a little more limited than they would have been 20 or 30 years ago through no fault of their own. And the idea that people on Wall Street and the highest executives doing even better than before. I think people in general are interested in that," Burgess says.

Performances are scheduled for January 25 through February 12 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.  Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $30-$93.

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