Thursday, July 28, 2016

Theater Review: The Invisible Hand -- Westport

Eric Bryant and Rajesh Bose. Photo: Carol Rosegg
The Invisible Hand
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by David Kennedy
Westport Country Playhouse

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Two men staring at a laptop making a killing in futures trading under any other circumstances might be colleagues on Wall Street, but in this play by Pulitzer-Prize winner Ayad Akhtar (Disgraced) one is kidnapped Citi Bank employee Nick Bright (Eric Bryant) and the other is his captor, Bashir (Fajer Kaisi), an Islamic extremist loyal to Imam Saleem (Rajesh Bose), a religious leader in Pakistan. 

Bashir actually botched the kidnap attempt -- he was supposed to take Nick's boss -- and as a result, the $20 million ransom they were hoping to demand probably isn't going to happen. Constantly reminded about how kidnap victims are beheaded, Nick, desperate to see his wife and little son again, strikes a deal to pay his own ransom by using his stock market skills. 

Chained in the room after a failed escape attempt, he gives trading instructions to Bashir, who discovers a love for the financial games they play that result in lots of profits -- and death when Bashir realizes that a terrorist attack at a wedding will drive stock prices to enhance their earnings. When it becomes increasingly clear that the imam is using the funds for personal gain rather than to help the Pakistan people, however, the game changes and suddenly Nick remembers that he isn't on a safe trading floor, but at the mercy of zealots who don't have his freedom at the top of their priority list.

What Are the Highlights?
Taut direction by David Kennedy keeps the action swift and suspenseful. Excellent writing by Akhtar develops characters beyond stereotypes. There are people -- much like you or me -- behind the veil of extreme Islam and the playwright gives us a glimpse. The feeling that these people would be friends under any other circumstances is palpable throughout. The transition in Nick's guard, Dar (Jameal Ali), from trusted friend to would-be executioner and a covert to the bloody cause is chilling. All of the actors deliver a wide range of emotion.

Adam Rigg's set visualizes the complexity of the relationships: the living part of the room where Nick is held could be a shabby apartment anywhere -- it is the caged area around the door that reminds us he isn't free. When we fade to black between scenes, the room's outline appears lighted (design by Matthew Richards) to give the impression that everyone is a prisoner in a large box.

The scene that closes act one is one of the best I have ever seen to make people want to come back for more after intermission.

What are the Lowlights?
The second act, in particular, could use some edits.

More Information:
The Invisible Hand plays through Aug. 6 at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. Performances are Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $40-$60: www.westportplayhouse.org; 203)-227-4177; toll-free 1-888-927-7529. 

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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