A good return for your investment

Judith Hawking and Christina Haag. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Playwright Rothstein crafts timely, prophetic tale


Money, money, money, money, money, money….

“When I came out of Vassar in 2003,” says Sharyn Rothstein, “a lot of people were going to work on Wall Street. I didn’t, but I had two friends who did — men friends — and I would talk with them about it.”

What fascinated her — and still does — was that “before everything went to pot on Wall Street, you could go to work there and come away with lots and lots of money — almost for free.”

Instead of going to Wall Street, start writing plays — one of which, now to the in the East Village, deserves to have a snappier title than its “The Invested.”

Indeed, as surprises go, you may find yourself gasping at a plot that hinges on Standard & Poor’s downgrading the credit status of a world-famous investment bank from AAA to AA+…in a drama written many months before S&P did exactly the same thing, not to a bank but to a whole nation. Our nation. And through our nation to the whole bloody financially imperiled world.

Money had in fact been a chief topic of dinner-table conversation at homes in Avon, Connecticut, just outside Hartford, where Sharyn Rothstein was born and bred. “I grew up in money,” she says, not meaning wealth but that her father was and is a financial adviser — “and chief consultant on this play.”

At the center of “The Invested” are two people: Catherine Murdoch (of all things), who wanted to have been made CEO of the huge, world-embracing Metrobank, but wasn’t — and a slick, sharp-shooting male named William Enoch (actor Thomas Hildreth), who was.

At issue is a certain very large special fund administered by Ms. Murdoch (Christina Haag) for the beneficial investments of her own special clients, among them a shrewd old father figure named Sid Simon (Bill Cwikowski). What Catherine doesn’t know, but will soon find out — thanks to the S&P downgrade — is that Bill Enoch, CEO, has invaded her fund and chopped it up into thousands of little hunks — junk bonds — he can peddle here, there and everywhere.

When Catherine, and then Sid Simon, find this out, dear old Sid suddenly stops being a kindly father figure — and Catherine goes to the SEC.

Yes, of course, there is a certain feminist quotient in “The Invested,” underscored by a supporting character — Catherine’s young assistant, Madeline (Turna Mete), who sleeps with a schnook she dislikes named Henry (Michael Daniel Anderson) to get him to reveal why Bill Enoch is furiously shredding all sorts of memoranda. But Enoch’s most dangerous opponent is a rich bitch board member named Jane Giffin (Judith Hawkins), at whom he directs his wickedest barbs.

“When I started writing the play in 2008,” says the playwright, “it seemed as if more and more female executives on Wall Street were quitting or losing their jobs. And women also tend to be whistle-blowers.”

No, Ms. Rothstein says, she doesn’t know any Wall Street Bill Enochs directly, “but I know the elements. He’s a composite of three or four of them, and I knew that at least some of these characters had to be incredibly charming.”

She’s seen other women experience sexism, but she herself has only experienced some subtle sexism in the workplace. “I think it has moved underground. It’s not there, but it’s there.”

She has “always been interested in politics,” and her earlier plays include one about illegal immigration and one called “Neglect” — about a heat wave that killed a lot of people in Chicago. Its staging at the Ensemble Studio Theater was her first manifestation in New York.

Her eyes widen when I say, “Catherine Murdoch, how did that happen?”  With a laugh, she says, “I guess I just liked the sound of the name. This play was written well before Rupert Murdoch and his son went before Parliament.

How about that “Y” in Sharyn?

“My parents” — Alan and Marilyn Rothstein — “did that to me.”

Speaking of names, the director of “The Invested” is a gentleman named Ron Canada.

It was the collapse of Lehman Bros., well before S&P pulled the rug out from under everything that had started “a baby play-germ percolating in my brain.”

Now she and her husband, William Morris agent Jeff Lesh — “that’s how we met; I was working at William Morris” — have a real live three-month-old baby Lucien to supply the theatrics at home.

As for mama Sharyn, no, she’s never acted.

“I don’t have the courage.”

Had she foreseen the S&P downgrading of the USA?

“No, I didn’t…. And just two days ago I saw in the Times that Lloyd Blankfein, head of Goldman Sachs, had hired a well known criminal attorney.”

When Sharyn Rothstein came down from Vassar to go for her MFA at NYU, “I was young to New York, and it seemed like there was money everywhere. A Gilded Age.”

And then the bubble burst. Wall Street’s loss is East 4th Street’s gain.

Written by Sharyn Rothstein

Directed by Ron Canada
Through September 24
At the 4th Street Theater (83 E. 4th St., btw. 2nd Ave. & Bowery)

For tickets ($18), brownpapertickes.com or purchase at the box office
Visit TheInvested.com