Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of The Tales of Hoffmann
American Stage is currently presenting the Florida premiere of Ayad Akhtar's The Invisible Hand. Although Akhtar's 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning Disgraced has been tremendously popular in regional theatre, The Invisible Hand has not repeated that success (though its 2015 Off-Broadway run did receive award recognition). Part of the reason for this may be that the play gets bogged down in scenes that teach college level economic theory and political philosophy without moving the storyline forward. And, though the quote from Variety used in advertising for this production refers to the play as "... a scary (and dreadfully funny) treatise on the universality of greed," I did not find it funny at all. I wonder if serious trimming of the slow-moving scenes might tighten this work to a taut 90 minutes of political thriller.
American Stage's production is a fine rendering of this imperfect script, very well cast and extraordinarily well directed. Heading the cast is Joe Ditmyer as Nick Bright, a high level investment banker, mistakenly abducted in Pakistan (the captors thought they were capturing his boss). Mr. Ditmyer dominates the production as his character needs to, as written, both mentally and physically. He vividly brings to life Nick's mental decline under extreme stress. Opposite him as Bashir, one of the captors, is Benjamin T. Ismail who brilliantly directed Informed Consent a few months ago for this same theater company. His acting is fine, and he utterly nails a lower-class London accent. Mujahid Abdul-Rashid plays Imam Saleem, head of the captors who falls prey to greed, in a performance of great strength and dignity. Shrey Neil as Dar has the smallest part, but he makes it very telling. Fine acting, all around.
Stephanie Gularte continues to prove what a great choice American Stage made when they hired her as Producing Artistic Director. She is directing two productions each year and this is her second season with the company. I have seen three of the four productions she has directed, each one brilliantly realized and finely acted.
The setting, a Pakistani prison, is chillingly realized by Steven Mitchell. Costumes by Jill Castle are spot on as is lighting by Chris Baldwin.
In a pre-curtain talk, assistant stage manager apprentice Matt Acquard spoke about the power of theater to operate in a world of grey rather than black and white. The Invisible Hand is certainly a prime example of this, giving the audience a chance to think about important themes, greed being only one of them. At a talkback after the performance I attended, I learned that the company had received three revised versions of the script, and I hope that there are more to come for future productions.
Thank you to American Stage for choosing this provocative play, not to be missed by serious theatergoers all over the area, in spite of its imperfections.
The Invisible Handat American Stage Theater Company through June 25, 2017, at 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg FL. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):