“Day Trader”: wickedly clever play critiques capitalism

LOS ANGELES – Day Trader is sort of Sunset Blvd. meets Body Heat meets Wall Street, a modern morality play that will keep audiences on the edges of their seats as they try to figure out what’s going on and what will happen next. Broadway actor Danton Stone heads this stellar four-actor cast as 49-year-old father Ron Barlow. Brighid Fleming plays his daughter, 15-year-old Juliana Barlow. Although never seen onstage, their forbidding wife/mother, Brenda, the so-called “Iron Lady of Hancock Park,” looms over the action like the gigantic, scowling wife who grows out of a house in a famous James Thurber cartoon.

Brenda is a millionaire, but as Barlow confides to his neighbor Phil (Tim Meinelschmidt) – like Ron also a failed Hollywood scriptwriter – Ron is extremely unhappily married. He schemes to escape from the marriage with his “share” of Brenda’s bread, scheming to use a loophole in their almost airtight pre-nuptial agreement to score big time.

Enter into this combustible situation the femme fatale Bridget (leggy Murielle Zuker), an acting student and waitress at a bar Phil takes Ron to. All hell breaks loose, as playwright Eric Rudnick explores how low people will sink out of their lust for money, status, and – well – lust.

Rudnick’s script is nearly perfectly constructed. The stage action and dialogue are full of clues that will tip off the astute listener as to what is really going to occur in this taut drama, which – like the human condition itself – also has its share of laughs. Rudnick also has keen psychological insights.

For instance, in one pivotal scene Ron tells Juliana how (so he says) her mother truly feels let down by her. But this dramatic moment is a quintessential example of projection on par with Newt Gingrich’s claiming of the moral high ground during a 2012 presidential debate in defense of his marital infidelity. Ron, of course, is actually revealing how the grim Brenda feels about him, not their daughter.

Day Trader is skillfully directed (Steven Williford) and superbly acted. Fourteen-year-old Brighid Fleming is a rising star whom ticket buyers and casting directors should keep their eyes on. She has been seen in local theater, and is currently on the big screen in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day with Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Tobey Maguire.

Although Stone has previously acted in movies and television shows shot in L.A., with Day Trader the recently relocated New York theater veteran makes an auspicious L.A. stage début. As Ron Barlow, Stone delivers a letter-perfect performance as an increasingly desperate out-of-work screenwriter who has turned to the titular day trading as a possible way to make money independently of the overbearing Brenda, a character many in Tinseltown may recognize.

Within the Wall Street world, a day trader is a speculator or investor who buys and sells financial instruments on the foreign exchange and stock markets within the same trading day. Throughout the play Ron listens to a 25-session self-help tape that explains how to conduct this form of profit-seeking, which is done largely in solitude via phone, iPad, computer, tablet, etc. With his play’s get-rich-quick scheme within a scam, Rudnick’s Day Trader can be interpreted as a parable and critique of capitalism.

The drama’s title can also have multiple meanings, as “trader” sounds like “traitor.” Ron’s betrayal of Juliana reminded this writer of one of literature’s most heartrending acts of treachery. At the end of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984, after his failed rebellion against the omniscient totalitarian state, the imprisoned Winston Smith is taken to “Room 101” to be tortured. There, threatened with hungry rats eager to eat his face, Winston literally rats out his co-conspirator and lover. Desperate and terrified, the broken Winston shouts: “Do it to Julia!”

Except in Rudnick’s alternately hair-raising and hilarious roller coaster ride Day Trader, instead of Big Brother watching him, Ron Barlow had better watch out for Brighid Fleming’s “Little Daughter!”

Day Trader plays at 7:00 p.m. on Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays through Feb. 16 at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $25. For more information: (213) 389-3856 or www.bootlegtheater.org.

Photo: BootlegTheater.org


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.