If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Invisible Hand” Timely Drama in Westport
One of the many themes of “The Invisible Hand”, playwright Ayad Akhtar’s all-too-timely drama currently on the boards at the Westport Country Playhouse, is that greed, unfortunately, is still good in most places on our planet. Akhtar is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning drama, “Disgraced”, and while this new work rarely comes up to the level of that masterwork, there is enough good acting and compelling drama here to recommend the play.
American banker Nick Bright (Eric Bryant) is being held captive by a ragtag group of Pakistani loyalists who are asking a ransom of 10 million dollars. Nick convinces his captors that he’s a low-level employee and not worth the ransom. He, instead, offers to teach them the secrets of high finance in the ways of working the market in order to make the money they need. “The Invisible Hand” is a hostage drama crossed with “The Big Short”. Unlike the film, however, Mr. Akhtar has done a good job here in simplifying the economics for the casual viewer often, it must be noted, in awkward dialogue that baldly spells out specifics. Still, the idea that money transcends culture, race and religion while breeding contempt and distrust between the captors, is a powerful one.
In addition to Bryant, who plays the hostage with a combination of rage, fear and helplessness, the all-male company includes Rajesh Bose as the elder leader, Fajer Kaisi as his strong-armed enforcer and Jameal Ali as a sympathetic guard. Bose, who played the Muslim husband in “Disgraced” at Long Wharf last season and was awarded the top acting prize from the Connecticut Critics Circle for his work, is equally memorable here in a less-showy role. Ali’s subservience deftly masks an inner anger that threatens to explode. Kaisi completes the strong acting quartet with a magnetic performance of a true-believer whose eye-opening education will change him forever.
As noted, the writing can drift towards the obvious at times and the number of short scenes, especially notable in the second act, threatens to seriously dilute the tension that director David Kennedy has done such a good job in establishing. Like many contemporary playwrights, Akhtar often seems to be writing a movie script instead of a stage drama with these short-attention-span edits.
Adam Rigg’s scenic design of a cement block holding cell with its barred windows and dirty mattress is grimly authentic. Fitz Patton’s sound design between scenes ratchets up the tension while Matthew Richards’ lighting includes both natural and fluorescent light creating harsh shadows and a foreboding environment. I also admired designer Emily Rebholz’s subtle changes in costuming for Nick representing the awful passage of time.
The play is both topical and timely and another worthy addition to the playwright’s growing list of works which includes his serious comedy, “The Who and the What”. Akhar’s exploration of the Muslim experience in America and abroad continues to be a provocative topic.
“The Invisible Hand” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through August 6. For further information or ticket reservations call the box office at: 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.