Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Invisible Hand
Cleveland Play House
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's report on the 2018-2019 KeyBank Broadway Series and David's review of Misery

Max Woertendyke
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
The Cleveland Play House production of Ayad Akhtar's The Invisible Hand is disturbing. From the opening lines there is a below-the-surface tension that carries throughout the work all the way to its surprise conclusion. Part of it is the sound of conflict heard outside the prison, part of it is the conflict happening within the walls.

Nick Bright (Max Woertendyke) is a mid-level banking executive who has been mistakenly kidnapped by Islamic revolutionaries in Pakistan. His boss (the president of the banking firm and the real target of the kidnapping) has abandoned Nick to his fate. One thing Bright has going for him is his skill as an investment strategist, which he has used to make more money than others on the same investments and even make money when those investments lose. All he needs is a chance to access information and market sites in an unfettered manner.

Nick's life now takes place in a large "cell." There are two sad looking chairs, a table, a bench and a bed. On one end is a double door that is constantly kept chained on the outside and the other far wall has a barred window high off the floor. He is guarded by a young man, Dar (Nik Sadhnani), who seems to be sympathetic to the American's plight. Dar's boss is Bashir (Louis Sallan) whose perfect British accent allowed him to hide in plain sight in London but he has return to Pakistan to carry out the group's work.

The leader of the revolutionary movement is Imam Saleem (J. Paul Nickolas), whose motive for the kidnapping is to raise money in order to help his people who have been under the thumb of oppressive Pakistani governments as well as major foreign powers that steal vital resources from the people. He has set the ransom for Nick at $10 million USD, thus forcing the economic genius to throw in with them.

Using information gleaned by the group's huge network of spies, Nick is able to come up with a strategy to make huge amounts of money in the one year deadline that has been imposed. What he is not aware of (or chooses to ignore) the fact that the revolutionary group is staging events (including assassinations) that force the market to their favor.

Max Woertendyke does an incredibly convincing job as the wrongly kidnapped man who misses his wife and child. To him, manipulating the market is just a game and one he loves to play. He soon finds out that the "invisible hand" that acts as a system of checks and balances around the world does not hold power in this region. Here he can rig the market for the group's benefit without any legal repercussions. He is also an expert at turning members of the group against each other by feeding them small bits of damning information that has them questioning the motives of each other.

Louis Sallan (Bashir) is perfectly cast as the revolutionary who carries a large load of hate after years of ridicule in England. He is barely able to keep this malice under control as he and Nick plot their way to a huge fortune. Nik Sadhnani's Dar, through costuming and manner, grows up in front of our eyes as he is given stronger and stronger tasks to accomplish. He himself is oppressed by his masters. Imam Saleem, played by J. Paul Nicholas, is the revolutionary hero who is worshipped by his group until Nick uncovers some facts that may be counter to their goals of helping the people.

The stage design by Mikiko Suzuki Macadams is set in runway style, with the huge cell running end to end with the seating. Large screens hide the stage prior to its beginning and second act, adding more tension to the proceedings until they slide out of view. Costuming by Valerie Therese Bart varies for each character throughout the show as Nick's outfit ages through a year of captivity and he exhibits various stages of beard growth courtesy of Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas. Dar goes from white-clothed underling to combat fatigue revolutionary, and Imam Saleem changes clothes to meet his fate. Sound design by Daniel Perelstein is sharp as is the excellent lighting by Michael Boll. Lastly, kudos go to Thom Jones for his work as voice, speech and text coach.

This show carries adult themes with periods of intensity that would not be suitable for young children. Later high school and college age may be more appropriate for this subject matter.

Sometimes in America we are given just one side of a story in order to manipulate our feelings against a particular ethnic group. In The Invisible Hand, playwright Ayad Akhtar's shows us both sides of the coin so we can become familiar with the cause and effect that happens daily in the Middle East. The show does not pass judgment of right or wrong, but simply presents the situation, allowing us to come to our own conclusions. Brilliantly written, performed and executed, this is intense theater at its best.

Cleveland Play House presents The Invisible Hand, through March 11, 2018, in the Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square 1501 Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online at, by calling (216) 241-6000, or by stopping by the Playhouse Square Box Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre.

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