Though Major League Baseball banned the spitball in 1920, Brooklyn Dodger Burleigh Grimes won a special dispensation to throw that lubricious pitch until his 1934 retirement. But such indulgences didn’t make him any nicer. In the twilight of his career, Grimes once remarked, “Why is it there are so many nice guys interested in baseball? Not me—I was a real bastard when I played.”
It’s clearly that reputation for bastardy (rather than any impressive stats) that inspired playwright Roger Kirby to name his financial comedy and its lead character after the Hall of Famer. In Kirby’s play, directed to within an inch of its life by David Warren, Grimes is a stock market shark with natty suspenders and flexible moral philosophy. Into his office stumbles George Radbourn, a moneyed naïf whose daddy once got the better of Grimes. With the help of underlings Hap and Buck and a pair of cable TV “Money Honeys,” Grimes attempts to settle the score.
As George (James Badge Dale) is barely bright enough to tie his Italianate shoes, tricking him ought not to be much of a feat. But Kirby feels compelled to lard his script with nonsensical double and triple crosses and superfluous ethical debates. (It’s the financial sector; who has ethics?) Director Warren doesn’t invest overmuch in the plot or dialogue. He seems constantly terrified that the audience might grow restive and punctuates practically every exchange with an exhausting array of light cues, video projections, dance numbers, and a punchy live score by David Yazbek (performed with bass, guitar, and two drum kits).
The actors all execute their perfunctory characters quite well—Wendie Malick is especially decorative as a financial correspondent—but they can hardly compete with so many flashing beams and percussive crashes. Perhaps Warren was inspired by a scene in which Hap and Buck teach George how to make a profit even when a stock price falls: The trick is to first sell the shares, then buy them after their value has diminished. Clearly a quick study, Warren excels in selling his audience short.