"The Invisible Hand"

--Irene Backalenick

The leading personality in “The Invisible Hand” now playing at the Westport Country Playhouse, is not any one of the four characters on stage, but an abstraction -- money. Money, that “invisible hand,” drives the play, as it does many of us in today’s world. Playwright Ayad Akhtar’s preoccupation with this topic proves both good and ill for the play itself.

On the positive side, money is a timely subject, a concern for most of us. But it does not energize the play’s human characters, who are more symbols than human beings. And though Akhtar pulls in other timely topics, such as east/west conflicts, terrorism, globalization, human needs, they do not bring the characters to life.

What’s the story? “The Invisible Hand” deals with Nick Bright, an American futures trader who happens to be in Pakistan. He has been kidnapped and is held for a ransom of ten million dollars. Since he cannot hope to pay that sum, he devises another method. He will use his own three million dollars (probably neatly tucked away in an offshore bank). Given his skills, he will parlay this sum into the required ten million. His captors (thugs, terrorists, or possibly government officials) buy into the idea, and soon the prison cell turns into an office.

In the early scenes Nick’s chief captor Bashir is driven by rage, thuggery, and misinformation, and Nick is his helpless target. But once the cell turns office, Bashir proves to be a quick study, soon trading futures with glee and skill. Whether the money is for “the people,” as he claims, or his own pockets, is never explained. But a new relationship develops between teacher and student. Had the playwright focused on Bashir and his gradual transformation the play could have come alive. But, alas, his focus is the stock market and its intricacies, a topic which is, at best, not the stuff of drama.

Four competent actors (Fajer Kaisi as Bashir, Eric Bryant as Nick, and two others -- Jameal Ali and Rajesh Bose -- keep the many short scenes moving at a good clip, thanks to director David Kennedy. But so much of the material is dull. Credit must also go to the design team, with Adam Rigg’s bleak set, Matthew Richards’ moody lighting, and Emily Rebholz’s understated costumes.

But on balance, as this reviewer sees it, “The Invisible Hand” does not fulfill its potential.

 

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