Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The plot is rather simple: American banker Nick Bright, played by the terrific and sympathetic Eric Bryant, is kidnapped and held hostage in Pakistan, with his ransom being set at ten million dollars. During the course of the play, Nick must attempt to use his expert trading skills in the stock market to raise the money to buy his freedom. We are also told that he is married with a young son in America. At the start of the play, it almost seems that Nick has been mistakenly kidnapped, but nonetheless, he must pay the ten million dollars in order to be set free.
There is a unit set, superbly designed by scenic designer Kristen Robinson, that represents Nick Bright's prison cell. What's most striking about the staging is that, due to the intimacy of the theatre at TheaterWorks, it feels at times like the audience is almost part of the action onstage. This immediacy is unnerving, considering the power plays that take place during the show and how unpredictable and surprising this drama becomes.
In addition to Eric Bryant as Nick, there are three other characters, all flawlessly portrayed. When the curtain rises, we see Dar (the fine Anand Bhatt), serving as a somewhat simple-minded prison guard, but one who, at least initially, is sympathetic to Nick's plight. Dar makes a drastic change during the play that renders him downright scary. What's more, there is the equally frightening Bashir, played by Fajer Kaisi, who is assigned to learn how the stock market works as he attempts to help Nick raise the money for his ransom. Finally, Imam Saleem, played by the commanding Rajesh Bose, is definitely calling all the shots at the start of the show.
I would be loath to give any more of the plot away, considering how dizzying and unexpected the play becomes. Suffice to say that the playwright's choice of very short scenes works brilliantly, as one begins to lose track of how much time occurs between scenes and exactly how long Nick Bright is left imprisoned. Indeed, the use of a series of sharp, staccato sequences creates something of a hallucinatory, dream-like effect.
Harry Nadal's costume design and Matthew Richards' incisive lighting design are just about ideal in creating the claustrophobic world of a Pakistan prison, in which there truly seems to be no escape.
All is not quite what it seems in The Invisible Hand, adding to the power of the play, which proceeds in twisting and sometimes shocking ways. Akhtar's play is by no means a cheering one, but TheaterWorks deserves to be cheered for taking on such a controversial and powerful work, in an absolutely first class production that feels uncomfortably timely in the current state of the world.
The Invisible Hand, through June 23, 2018, at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets, please visit www.theaterworkshartford.org or call the box office at 860-527-7838.