Saturday, February 6, 2016

Review: 'Microcrisis'

InterAct Theatre Company gives to wacky "Microcrisis" a once-over. Is this satire about the financial crisis as goofy as it seems? Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: 'Microcrisis'

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Kevin Bergen and Bi Jean Ngo in InterAct Theatre Company's production of the satire "Microcrisis." Photo by Seth Rozin.

By Howard Shapiro

Bankers are lending big money to poor folks who can never pay it back, Ivy League whiz kids are developing new ways to get interest on that cash, financial watchdogs grant high ratings to every scammer, the feds turn all their cheeks, and in the play Microcrisis — can you believe it? — it’s big fun.

Granted, you can argue fine points about the financial stuff, but not about the fun factor of Microcrisis, in InterAct Theatre Company’s dynamically wacky production staged by InterAct’s leader, Seth Rozin. It opened Wednesday at the Adrienne Theatre with a cast fully versed in the idiocies of the characters.

Mike Lew’s satire, in which the New York-based playwright takes everyone in the international financial crisis to extremes, is an all-out goof. A banker gets catatonic on the floor when a big federal official denies him an ease in regulations. The federal official can barely take time to consider the question while he volleys racketball shots around the super-cool court he’s built under the Federal Reserve offices. He breaks his game, then wipes up with a 2,000-thread-count Egyptian cotton towel for a moment of scheming.

Lenders take off to Monaco after popping the necessary ’ludes, and end up canoodling on a craps table. As quiz-show music plays in the production’s background, bankers swap gift-wrapped boxes of moolah. People make millions selling before the dominos fall, and throughout, a poor businessman who needed only a small loan is in a lifetime of debt from sales talk and ballooning interest.

And on and on it goes, an 80-minute romp that should be 70 -- but that’s a minor irritation. Lews’ play is aptly stupid in its depictions and deceptively smart in its construction. Every character represents some faceless part of the real crisis — a bank, the junk-money industry, government watchdogs. Even the woeful, ignored businessman speaks for a class of borrowers tantalized by greed and mired in denial.

Four of the six-member cast play multiple roles, the particularly flexible Frank X among them; as the head of New York’s Fed, he’s a real swell —the epitome of arrogance and entitlement. The show-stealer, though, is Bi Jean Ngo, as the securities rating executive whose emotion-wrought bang-bang delivery can rip up a room.

Kevin Bergen — often seen at People’s Light, where’s he part of the repertory — is the high-strung smarm-master who thinks all this up (it’s called micro-credit), Hannah Gold and Dave Johnson (Puck in Lantern’s Midsummer Night’s Dream last season) are high-octane university kids who become the faces of this mess, and Maia Desanti is the schoolteacher who throws her pension away.

The production is lifted into another zone by Mark Valenzuela’s sound, which makes all sorts of things that aren’t physically there seem real. You know, just like the bankers did.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter.
Microcrisis: Presented by InterAct Theatre Company at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St., through Feb. 12. Tickets: $28-$35. Information: 215-568-8079 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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