Making money is sexy. Destroying people in the process is even sexier. But nothing, not even sex, is quite as much fun as corrupting the youthful idealists who try to stop your march to power. That sums up the cynical premise of “Burleigh Grime$,” Roger Kirby’s satire about a Wall Street trader so evil he doesn’t even have a soul to sell to the devil. Hyperkinetic production toplined with recognizable TV faces slickly conveys the heartless world in which people are bought and sold like junk bonds. But the banality of the good guys takes the edge off the comedy, leaving us no one to root for in this bad, bad world.
Burleigh Grimes, played with an impressive concentration of maniacal energy by Mark Moses (“Desperate Housewives”), is one of those ruthless monsters who devours whoever and whatever stands in the way of his obsession — in this case, making obscene amounts of money. Like many a high-powered trader, he fancies himself to be the Wall Street equivalent of a rock star, and in Moses’ finger-popping turn he struts across the stage in a constant state of performance ecstasy.
Wendie Malick (“Just Shoot Me”) matches that intense energy level as Betty Bigley, a financial reporter who gleefully crushes bones on her syndicated TV show. Flashing her sharklike smile and showing an avid taste for blood, Malick makes it clear that, while traders are free to flap their fins, Betty is the big fish who decides who gets to swim in this tank.
Burleigh and Betty make a pretty pair of conspirators. He feeds her the inside tips, and she spreads the rumors. He makes the killing, and she gets the kickback. The dynamic between these two killers is so charged with sexual energy that they constantly dance offstage in a tango clinch.
To convey the dizzying thrills of life in the financial fast lane, scribe Kirby exaggerates legitimate market language, blowing it out into a stage idiom with repetitive tropes and a driving rock beat. At their highest decibel level, these trading mantras are almost incomprehensible: “100 Christmas Spoose 1200s at 20. Make it short. Make it long. Not now. I’m jamming. Dig it out. Give me Fanny Leap 40s of 08 at 2.10.”
Helmer David Warren keeps the hypnotic pace up by holding the actors to a robotic rhythm and using an onstage band dominated by two drummers to hammer out the beat supplied by David Yazbek (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”). Cell phones are worn like weapons and loaded for big game.
The visual drive is just as intense, with banks of TV screens, computer screens, ticker tapes and giant clocks flashing and whirling in the multicolored cacophony of giant pinball machines.
By necessity, all this chaos must slow down for the plot — and here’s where the show gets in big trouble. Kirby goes out of his way to be clever in devising a story about a young trader named George Radbourn (James Badge Dale), taken into the firm by Burleigh and supposedly being groomed for success. In actuality, Burleigh is out to destroy this idealistic youth — and, through him, his father’s firm.
Another innocent named Grace Redding (Ashley Williams) is being mentored by Betty, who has a nasty agenda of her own. Meanwhile, two other young traders already under Burleigh’s wing are ready to fly on their own — right into trouble.
For all their ethical qualms, none of these youngsters is written with much integrity, and none is supplied by the thesps. As is his style, Burleigh takes over the education of these interchangeable cogs and shows cynical satisfaction in teaching them the ropes. But there’s no real conflict involved and no doubt about how the moral dilemmas will be resolved.
In the end, Burleigh is still just showing off — and so, one suspects, is Roger Kirby.