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A CurtainUp Review
The bigger the risk, the bigger the return
By Elyse Sommer
Mounted as it is in a tiny downtown venue, I didn't expect as sweeping a saga as a stage or film adaptation of Cartwright's novel would call for. Sharyn Rothstein's The Invested, now having a limited run premiere in the tiny 4th Street Theater can best be summed up by borrowing one of John P. Shanley 's recent delightful daily ruminations at Facebook —"Two very provocative words. Yes. And No."
Yes, Rothstein's play is an entertaining and timely take on the once obscure world of Wall Street and its lingo. The plot unfolds through the personal lens of the people caught up in the tensions created when a new CEO is brought on board so the bank can profit from the profitable hedge fund that's part of the package.
No, it's not going to shed any new light on the financial crisis of 2008 that made discussions of hedge funds and triple AAA ratings and their importance all too familiar to ordinary people — people whose jobs and homes continue to be the endangered species of the reckless investments by banks like Rothstein's fictional Metro Bank and their real counterparts.
If Rothstein's Catherine Murdoch, had become a financial journalist instead of Metro Bank's head of Wealth Management, The Invested might be more of a blow-by-blow real life drama, shades of William Cohan's book House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street. However, Rothstein is a dramatist and wasn't bent on being a financial seer when she began writing this play. Instead, according to an interview with Jerry Talmer ("A Good Return for Your Investment" in Downtown Express) the play was inspired by seeing some of her classmates at Vassar getting rich by working on Wall Street, but also seeing a flurry of women who had crashed the glass ceiling quitting or being pushed out of their executive jobs.
What we have then is a play that uses the fiasco of the junk fund sales as the canvas on which to have Catherine Murdoch and the bottom rung Metro Bank employees as well as its ruthless CEO and female board member engage in back stabbing ploys for survival. It's a three-fold success: First, because Rothstein has created an attention-holding drama with characters who talk and act like real people, not stick figures spouting a lot of financial gobbledygook. Secondly, The Invested succeeds because Ron Canada and his design team have managed to stage it compellingly, allowing for fluid scene shifts without a lot of fancy scenery. Last, but by no means least, the play boasts a terrific cast.
Christina Haag and Thomas Hildreth do well by the main protagonists and antagonists: She as Catherine Murdoch, the wealth management executive who's been fattening her clients' portfolioss with carefully chosen investments and who's been profiled in several financial magazines; he as the ruthless hot shot Bill Enoch, whose hugely profitable hedge fund has caused the board to bypass Catherine for the CEO slot. Their biting getting-to-know-you meeting that sets the plot in motion defines their characters, as is the case when the other characters become part of the intrigue.
While Catherine could probably get a top job at another bank, she's not a quitter as indicated by her history as a marathon runner. She's not about to step off the ladder she's been climbing at Metro Bank for 15 years. Staying at the top of that ladder and Enoch's promise of the CFO job causes Catherine to abandon the fiduciary motto of The Code of Hammurabi (see the quote at the top of this review) that has served as her model when advising her clients — at least long enough to sell Enoch's junk fund to her oldest client, Sid Simon (a show stealing performance by Bill Cwikowski). But her innate decency makes her determined to not just save her job but force the bank to stop supporting Enoch's shoddy ethics.
Three other characters are stand-ins for the generally each-man-for-himself Metro Bank population and contribute mightily to the pleasure of watching things become increasingly hostile and jittery. At the top tier level, there's Catherine's fair weather champion on the board, Jane Griffin (played with flamboyant flair by Judith Hawking). There's also Catherine's new assistant (the delightful Turna Mete as the smart, loyal but still naive Ohio to Big Apple transplant) and Henry Hovey (Michael Daniel Anderson), the seemingly harmless, somewhat dopey compulsive joke teller who turns out to be a smarmy, self-serving survivor.
Though Enoch is clearly the villain of the piece, that doesn't automatically make Catherine its heroine. Ultimately, the only really good guy in Rothstein's play is Bill Cwikowski's Sid Simon. He's the dream come true dad, granddad -- and, yes, client- Admirable or not, the actors and the smart script make everyone fun to watch. And at $18 a ticket, you can afford to watch them even if your portfolio has taken a beating.
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