Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Invisible Hand
Westport Country Playhouse
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Midsummer (a play with songs)


Eric Bryant and Rajesh Bose
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Ayad Akhtar's The Invisible Hand, at Westport Country Playhouse through August 6th, is high on intellectual stimulus. The intense plotting revolves around Nick Bright (Eric Bryant), an American banker recently kidnapped and now anxiety ridden as he struggles with his circumstances in a Pakistani jail cell. The strong play, given current worldly situations and predicaments, is obviously pertinent. David Kennedy directs and the resultant production probes with specificity.

The terrorist group which has snagged Nick is led by Imam Saleem (Rajesh Bose). This organization claims to try to improve the lives of Pakistan's people. Nick persuades the initial jail guard Dar (Jameal Ali) that he can help him make some quick money. Bashir (Fajer Kaisi), a more threatening and severe captor, does not approve of Nick's counsel for and with Dar. There is a $10 million ransom Citibank (Nick's employer) must pay to get the fretful American released.

As it develops, Bashir remarks that the imam is now officially labeled a terrorist. That eliminates the U.S. government's quest to free Nick. Nick and Bashir, for a time, forge a limited friendship. Nick instructs Bashir about methods to score on the futures market: Nick has hedge fund expertise and is also able to access a few million dollars of his own from a Cayman Island account. If he can share Bashir's computer, Nick might make quite a bit of money. Meanwhile, the banker has also been configuring a means for his escape.

The second act opens as Nick, with one foot shackled, understands that he is in serious trouble, having been captured anew. Akhtar heightens conflict by prodding Nick to play Bashir against the imam. Nick has advised the imam to invest in real estate but Bashir investigates and makes telling discoveries. Bashir disparages and demeans Nick but is equally angry with Dar, whom he utilizes as a violent means toward achieving Bashir's goals.

Bashir and Nick, during the first portion of the hyper-drama, enjoy a bit of a like/hate relationship. They joke, they converse—even if Bashir never comes across as a trustworthy soul. The second act of this two hour play (including a break) is far darker. In the end, however, the playwright turns the outcome in surprising mode.

Ayad Akhtar won the Pulitzer Prize three years ago for Disgraced. He writes with both intelligence and purpose. The Invisible Hand grasps attention immediately. His Nick Bright is a hostage who becomes increasingly desperate. He knows he might never again see his family. Yet, Nick almost enjoys the early give-and-take with Bashir, whom he tutors. The playwright composes Muslim characters who are sharp and smart, as is the trapped American.

Kennedy's production effectively accentuates pivotal moments and is ever explanatory. Perhaps because the world, through media, has brought us the brutality of beheadings and so forth, The Invisible Hand does not feel particularly shocking or even stunning. It certainly is disturbing and it is an upsetting story. A cynic could effectively argue that this is a play about money and its evil importance in our contemporary world.

Designer Adam Rigg's prison cell is basic, as it should be. Emily Rebholz's costuming is an active asset, bringing us to the locale. Matthew Richards' lighting and Fitz Patton's sound are both essentials and important.

All four actors are convincing. Bright, as Nick, must change—from one who thinks he might see better days to a man who is cognizant that he might perish at any moment. Bashir, as personified by Kaisi, is scary; his internal fuse could light and explode at any time.

The Invisible Hand continues at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut through August 6th, 2016. For tickets, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.


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