Someday a play may come along to challenge the prevailing view that anyone who handles other people's money for a living is a venal, soulless opportunist. John Bunzel's "63 Trillion," in its world premiere guest-produced by New American Theatre at the Odyssey, is not that play.
"I'm not interested in helping others -- I'm a financial advisor!" Dick (Jeffrey Jones) sneers late in a farce that has already established that every man onstage is out for himself.
This line, like much of Bunzel’s dialogue, is witty, and Jones, playing if possible a more abhorrent version of the character he portrayed in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (Principal Rooney), delivers it with a malevolent gusto that Satan himself might envy.
Under Steve Zuckerman's deft direction, the performances are sharp and funny. Jack Stehlin (of TV’s “Weeds”) in particular has a lock on a manic but meticulously controlled delivery that keeps the comedy ticking along. The play itself, though, does not seem interested in much beyond sending up these men’s amoral worldview.
The stock market is in free fall, but only the firm’s newest assistant, Jonah (Noah James), expresses concern. Frank (Robert Cicchini) is brooding about an incident at home involving his “psychotic and sexually confused” dog. Kenny (Stehlin) is busy prying $10 million out of a skeptical new client (Jordan Lund).
Glum, feckless Tom (Ken Lerner) seems to have thrown in the towel entirely, directing his assistant to send his increasingly hysterical clients’ calls to voicemail. Dick (Jones), the firm’s creepy financial genius, pops in to gloat over his colleagues’ struggles.
The story line is oddly reminiscent of Ionesco's "Rhinoceros”: An offstage menace, here the plummeting Dow, triggers absurd responses that suggest the human mind’s endless capacity for illogic. But the threat never feels real, and perhaps to compensate, Bunzel introduces another one: Footage of Frank mistreating a mail room employee has gone viral, requiring the intervention of Nancy from legal (Megan Gallagher).
Nobody onstage seems to know Nancy or take her seriously, and the audience is equally challenged to identify her function in the play. She arrives so late, on such a trumped-up errand, that despite Gallagher’s snappy timing and likable air of exasperation, it's hard to get invested in her character.
The script is so busy satirizing the sleazy and desperate denizens of this world — Bunzel himself is a "wealth manager" as well as a writer — that it never settles on a protagonist or a story. As a result the sleekly designed production, which features a set and lighting by Jeffrey R. McLaughlin and original music by Roger Bellon, is like a gleaming, toothy smile without any real bite.
“63 Trillion,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. June 7. Ends June 7. $35. (310) 477-2055 or NewAmericanTheatre.com/tickets.html. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.