‘Other People’s Money’ and the importance of local action
NARROWSBURG, NY — In 1989, Jerry Sterner (1938–2001) wrote the play “Other People’s Money: The Ultimate Seduction,” about a small New England company that tries to fend off a hostile takeover from a crass businessman planning to liquidate its assets. In 1991, the play was adapted into a film, directed by Norman Jewison and starring Danny DeVito and Gregory Peck. And this weekend, the ACT Underground theatre troupe will be performing the play at the Tusten Theatre—but the local connections run even deeper than that: Beverly Sterner, Jerry’s sister, is a resident of the area and active member of the community.
“That’s one of the main reasons we chose to do this play, was for Bev,” says Wendy Kaufman, who directs the play for ACT Underground. “She’s right here in this town, and it’s a good play... And I also think it’s relevant today. I think the most interesting thing in terms of the play now, as opposed to when it was written, is that when it was written, it really was a statement of shame about how we’ve let this happen… Get to the flash forward 25 years or more. When I read it, I thought, ‘There is so much in this play that has become the new norm. The very thing that Jerry Sterner was shocked and horrified by has become acceptable. And it puts a different spin on the play….”
Beverly has been an activist and organizer in the nonviolent movements for peace and justice since 1960, while Jerry bragged that he was a “Jeffersonian Republican”—perspectives that would often clash and influence each other. “On the one hand, he would [tease me and] call me a pinko commie,” says Beverly. “And on the other hand, he had a lot of respect for what I was doing, and he really did like the people I was [working] with. And in fact, when I was being held in solitary confinement and he couldn’t get to see me, he [sat down] in the jail, and he had to be dragged out. Now, for my brother, who was a very traditional conservative kind of guy—to sit down in jail because he couldn’t see his sister… that was a very big deal for him. So there were always these fights [between] us, you know, we were brother and sister—and I was out there, and he was not.”
Beverly hopes stories like that can establish an example: “If we could hear each other’s stories, then we could understand more of who we each are and have more empathy, which I really would love to see happen in this community….” After 9/11, she founded the Upper Delaware Community Network (tinyurl.com/ycagy2fn), “dedicated to building community through an online bulletin board aimed at fulfilling both individual and community needs.” The network will hold a “sweet sixteen” party on October 21 at The Western Hotel in Callicoon, NY.
Recently, Sterner also set up another network, Building Bridges in the Upper Delaware (tinyurl.com/ybdzhk9n), described as “a community coalition dedicated to connecting people and organizations to each other for their mutual support and collaboration in organizing campaigns and actions to safeguard our Constitution and support the health and welfare of the Upper Delaware Region.”
Beverly uses her brother’s example to emphasize the importance of building those bridges. “[He] knew how to listen, and he was a great observer in that sense. He listened to people’s stories… When he hired me to manage a property, to turn around a property that was in Long Island, he said to me, ‘Bev, I know there’s some times you have to choose between making a human decision or a business decision. I hope it doesn’t happen too often, but—’ He understood that I would make the human decision. He gave me free rein to do that… He always was very generous on a personal level to people. Always saw the little guy and was always fair, always.”
But, as the play itself demonstrates, such niceties are not always observed. “I think if people walk out of this play saying, ‘Oh, that’s a dilemma, but y’know, that’s the way business works’… I think we’re lost,” says Kaufman. “I am doing nothing in the play to skew it that direction, because that would be unfair, it would be unfair to Jerry—I want to put the play up as written, as though it was today, and see what it stirs in people. What people walk out with, I don’t want to tell them what they should walk out with. Because I’m really curious to see what the response is.”
ACT Underground will stage “Other People’s Money” at the Tusten Theatre on Friday October 6 at 8 p.m., Saturday, October 7 at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, October 8 at 2 p.m. Tickets for all performances cost $15, and can be purchased at the door. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845/588-5043.