Thursday, September 15, 2011

THEATER: The Invested

As we've seen over the last few years, greed may not actually be all that good for the economy, but when it comes to the theater, the bubble on Wall Street dramas hasn't even come close to bursting. Sharyn Rothstein's The Invested won't be the play that pops it, but neither is it a play that particularly pops. While there are some sure-fire zingers, most delivered by Bill Enoch (Thomas Hildreth), the shady new CEO of "MetroBank" (see if you can figure out which institution this represents), Ron Canada's presentation and Rothstein's plotting is fairly tame, yoked to a sexism-related subplot that never makes it off the back-burner.

Some key research seems to be missing, which leads the play to rely so heavily on the emotional reactions of the passed-over, would-be-CEO Catherine Murdock (Christina Haag) that it never adequately explains what this fund has actually done, nor what its massive downgrade and the subsequent internecine conflict between Bill and Catherine means. We're told that investments are "iffy," just as board member Jane Griffin (the fabulous Judith Hawking) only ever tells us that she's fighting for Catherine. As for stakes, long-time client Sid Simon (Bill Cwikowski, turning a stereotype into a down-to-earth hoot) puts such a human face on them that Murdock is driven (by her heart and the scale model of the Code of Hammurabi on her desk) to reimburse Sid's losses out of the bank's own pocket. That problem solved, the play spends the rest of its time worrying only about Murdock's job, and frankly, that's an uninteresting one, given her multimillion-dollar status.

What one looks for in a bank is akin to what one looks for in a show: a strong identity, a great deal of focus, and a high return on investment (time, money, etc.). What The Invested delivers is a potent premise; a wandering plot that lingers on Catherine's adorably naive new assistant, Madeline (Turna Mete, who is likeable enough to merit her own play), and her improbable involvement with the married, annoying, office clown Henry (Michael Daniel Anderson); and an only somewhat fulfilling return. (This return stems almost entirely from the dialogue, not the characters: "If my panties got damp every time I met a snake charmer, I'd have died of thirst by now." "Sexism is dead, the only -ism left is capital, and you're fucking with it.") Strip out the assistants, focus on the alliance of women between Catherine and Jane, turn Bill into a more understandable villain, and you'd have a one-act powerhouse: the relationships are there, our interest is piqued. (Rothstein's Neglect is still one of the better two-person plays I've seen -- perhaps her scope is too large here.)
Instead of being this year's Microcrisis (a fiercely satirical piece about the next big bubble), The Invested is merely a safe way to spend two hours -- you'll laugh, a little -- which is ironic given the show's own tag-line: "The bigger the risk, the bigger the return." 

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