What’s it about?
The Improbable Fall, Rise & Fall of John Law is about the life of Scottish economist John Law, who, after many trials and tribulations, establishes France’s National Bank.
What'd I experience?
It’s 8:15 and I’m still 15 minutes away. Knowing I am already late, I try to make it anyway. While I wait in front of a jazz club for my Lyft, I feel the usual Saturday-night-out-with-my-bros-looking-to-get-laid male gaze on me several times. When my car finally pulls up I am relieved and sit in the front seat talking to my driver Sadeq about the mathematics of being a taxi driver in New York City on a Saturday night. Sadeq and I reach a desolate Christopher Street in just 7 minutes, but the minutes of my lateness continue to stack up like Jenga blocks. I quickly punch in the door code for IRT Theatre. No answer. I try a few more times, to no answer. Just as I’m about to give up I remember something a coldhearted boy I once knew told me: there is always someone expecting a visitor. So I punch in a random code. The door buzzes; I’m in. I walk into the empty lobby feeling kind of badass, staring straight ahead as I walk to the elevator.
When I reach the third floor theatre, I realize that the last time I was ridiculously late to a show, it was not only in this building, but in this exact theatre. Unlike last time, however, there are no people sitting outside the theatre entrance to let me inside. I sit alone and defeated in the pale yellow hallway, faintly hoping that I’ll get in during intermission, nearly an hour from now. Suddenly a man comes out of the theatre, we smile at each other as he walks down the hallway towards the bathroom. I wonder if he could be my key to the show. As I wait for him to return I prepare my voice to not sound like that of someone who is thirty minutes late. When he comes, I ask if he can get me in with a sprinkle of nervousness in my voice. He says he can! He tells me I can go in during the next scene change, when I hear music. I am so thankful for this man’s sudden appearance that when the music does start playing it takes me a second to realize that it’s my cue.
Having been late to this very theatre before, I feel a sense of authority and belonging as I seat myself on a step in the aisle. I may be 36 minutes late, but I made it. On stage four actors are in some kind of dice-rolling-money-betting situation with one of the actors, who I can tell is John Law himself, sitting at the head of the table as a woman nibbles on his face. I don’t like how ditzy and almost mockingly sexualized this woman is, but taking a closer look at Law myself, I’m kind of into it. Having missed the beginning of the story, I don’t really know who anyone is except for Law and even then, all I know is that he is good at math, Scottish, and that he is good-looking. Distractingly good-looking. Maybe I’m just lonely, but John Law is so good-looking that I’m not even bothered by the man next to me who is a member of the breed Men Who Take Their Shoes Off in Public.
For the rest of Act 1 I try hard to focus on gather the basic premise of the story: it’s set in England, John Law is a man of logic who makes his money by gambling, and he is a real historical figure. Act 1 ends with Law going to prison - and escaping.
At intermission I stand up and scan the theatre for a seat, but somehow there just isn’t a free one. Tired from sitting on the hard step of the aisle and feeling like an obstruction, I ask a member of the theatre staff if there might be a seat for me. She talks to another staffperson, who cheerily says I can have her seat, front and center. This is one of the moments in which I feel luckiest; when I show up 30 minutes late but still get the best seat in the house, when everything goes wrong for a second, only to turn out better than just fine in the end.
Reveling in my luck, sitting close enough for my feet to touch the low stage, I prepare to really focus on John Law - the story, not the man.
In Act 2 Law has made it to 16th century Paris where, in the midst of a national financial crisis, he is trying to spread his ideas about the utility of paper currency over metal currency to anyone who will listen. This lands him in the front of the King Louis XV himself, who is just five years old. Law’s economic theories are certainly of no interest to the young king, who jokingly asserts his power as king by demanding that Law give him his pants.
And give the king his pants he does, as I sit less than three feet away trying not to look as immensely interested as I feel.
The rest of the show, especially after Law’s pants are back on is kind of a blur. Law is able to sneak his way into a meeting with Philippe, Duke of Orléans, the man actually in charge of France running France. Law is able to convince Philippe to try his idea of solving France’s debt problems by printing money and using that as credit. Philippe appoints him director of France’s new royal bank and, with his business and economic affairs in order, Law feels pretty on top of the world. He feels so on top of the world that he doesn’t think it inappropriate and awful when he asks the money printer if a young woman he saw earlier is a virgin. The printer answers his question respectfully, but as he walks away from Law, he closes the show with a statement that reminds me that, good-looking he may be, John Law is just another straight man: "Give a man power and suddenly he thinks he's entitled to fuck everything in the world."
With that, hundreds of small pieces of parchment paper fall all over the stage like confetti and the stage goes dark. As bothered as I feel by Law’s male entitlement, I try to hold on to the positive vibes of the night and remind myself that I had the best seat in the house, that there is kindness in the world. As I walk back out on to Christopher Street, I remember that this show has “Part 1” in its title. I’m not ever in the mood for male entitlement, but I wonder if I’d want to come back for Part 2, if there is one. I decide that I would, but I really need to invest in male privilege-blocking ear plugs first.