Michael Lew’s new play Microcrisis is a brilliant dark comedy about our current state of economic disaster. Developed in Ma-Yi Theatre’s Writer’s Lab, Microcrisis is being presented through HEREstay, HERE’s curated programming. Director Ralph Pena has assembled a stellar ensemble that includes Jackie Chung, David Gelles, William Jackson Harper, Lauren Hines, Alfredo Narciso, and Socorro Santiago. Microcrisis offers a wealth of fast paced comedy, social commentary and is ultimately a priceless theatrical experience. Bennett, played by Narciso, is a shady investment banker who puts the likes of Gordon Gecko to shame. He arrives in Kumasi, Ghana and takes over Citizen Lend, a non-profit bank that loans on “microcredit,” which is the practice of giving small loans to small businesses. The Citizen Lend office is run by Lydia (Hines), a bright-eyed Bennington intern who is more than happy to follow Citizen Lend’s protocol and give out loans at 2% interest. Of course, if you are a banker whose only goal is to make money, 2% interest is criminal. Bennett wheels and deals, linking Citizen Lend to Ivy Microloan, a small start up led from the bedroom of Harvard grad and boy genius Randy (Gelles).
In Microcrisis everyone is interested in getting more, and it is this need that Bennett manipulates. Even Clare, an insecure securities rater played by Jackie Chung, is no match for Bennett’s schemes. In Lew’s world, we all have a price and Bennett just has to name it. Won’t sell out for twenty million? How about twenty-one million? With the possibility of making so much money so quickly, details are irrelevant. Nobody wants information, everyone just wants cash. Even Lydia, for all of her good intentions can’t resist the lure of being wined and dined in Monaco. Why be good when you can be rich?
If we are to take Lew’s portrayal as somehow hitting close to home we realize that Bennett does what he does because he can, because we let him. We are easy prey for a fast talker who does not take no for an answer. The only person in the play who is not interested in having it all is Acquah, a Ghanaian businessman, played by William Jackson Haper. Acquah only wants his initial microloan, no more, no less. When Lydia tells him to take more money he says “What do I need with 10,000 cedis?”
Pena and his design team have an exquisite attention to detail. In one scene Bennett is playing racquetball with Frankfurt, his former boss and current Chairman of the New York Federal Reserve, also played by Harper. The court is in a former basement bank vault and the echo created by Rettig’s sound design delightfully enhances and animates the space.
Microcrisis is funny, scathing, and ultimately tragic. One of Acquah’s refrains throughout the play is “this is a joke,” and by the end of Microcrisis , you realize there is nothing funny about the awful truth of our current crisis.