By William Wolf

LONDON STAGE (2009-2010): 'THE POWER OF YES'  Send This Review to a Friend

David Hare, dogged as usual about exposing behind-the-scenes machinations concerning major issues, has focused his sights on the gigantic international financial mess resulting from horrendous practices by banks and investment firms. With “The Power of Yes,” which I saw at the Lyttelton in Britain’s National Theatre complex, he cleverly leads us through the maze. Using himself as an investigator, played in a laid back mode by Anthony Calf, he proceeds to question various financial players and analysts to get at the bottom of what caused it all. It is a canny dramatic ploy, and the result is somewhat akin to taking a university course on high finance and how it can go wrong.

A large cast is required to touch the various bases and Hare provides smart, challenging and revealing dialogue. Director Angus Jackson has staged the play with great fluidity as the cast members move in and out of the spotlight. Despite the dire nature of the catastrophe, Hare manages to inject humor and irony into the discourse. As the character Hare conducts his personal inquiry, he becomes in effect an ombudsman for the audience. For those of us unschooled in high finance, the play answers many questions as well as asks them.

An example of one exchange that I enjoyed occurs when Hare wonders why those who perpetrated the debacle feel no remorse or need for an apology in the face of the widespread denunciation of their practices. Hare is asked in return if when the critics judge one of his plays a failure he apologizes--an amusing concept. He answers that when he writes a bad play it doesn’t affect the lives of thousands of people.

The mix of those called upon for explanations include experts from the world of journalism, investment, banking, fund management, academia, head-hunting, bond trading and philanthropy. As he did in “Stuff Happens,” Hare doesn’t hesitate to name real people, often critically, and their photos are sometimes projected onto a large screen.

Viewing one personage from a positive perspective, Hare’s actor stand-in Calf converses with the wise, experienced hedge fund manager and philanthropist George Soros, played with savoir faire by Bruce Myers. One of the most telling moments comes when Soros makes the point that whoever gets hurt by the excesses, it is never those who perpetrated them.

I have heard comments from some who complain that the play isn’t so much drama as a lecture. I disagree. There is drama in the investigation and the stitching together of the disparate elements that add up to a strong exposé. I’ve also heard comments that “Enron,” which wasn’t showing when I was in London, is a more powerful work on the subject. I’ll be able to make comparisons when a production of “Enron” opens in New York in the spring. I hope that “The Power of Yes” gets to New York too so others can weigh the two. Whatever the differences, the financial situation has been so outrageous that two plays related to the subject are hardly in excess.


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