Review Roundup: Ayad Ahktar's THE INVISIBLE HAND Opens Off-Broadway

New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) presents the New York Premiere of THE INVISIBLE HAND, written by Pulitzer Prize Winner Ayad Ahktar. Directed by two-time Obie Award winner Ken Rus Schmoll, THE INVISIBLE HAND officially opens tonight, December 8, 2014, for a limited engagement through Sunday, January 4, 2015.

The cast features Jameal Ali (Hunted), Usman Ally (The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity), Dariush Kashani (The Happiest Song Plays Last) and Emmy Award and Golden Globe nominee Justin Kirk (Showtime's "Weeds").

THE INVISIBLE HAND follows an American investment banker, kidnapped and held for ransom in Pakistan, as he trades for his life. This suspenseful new play is a chilling and complex look at how far we will go to save ourselves and the devastating ramifications of our individual actions on global power and politics.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Mr. Akhtar's grasp of the world of high finance is certainly assured...But the play at times comes to resemble an economics seminar, with a sideline in global politics. The suspense surrounding Nick's fate feels like a mere pretext for a lesson in the workings of the markets. Nonetheless, Mr. Akhtar draws his characters with nuance...Mr. Kirk...is wryly funny as Nick, who gradually reveals his own layers of cynicism about how the American dollar has become the world currency. While Nick's desire for freedom is never in doubt, Mr. Kirk's canny performance suggests that Nick knows his best hope for surviving is by reverting to his ruthless instincts as a businessman rather than attempting to play upon his captors' sympathy. Although the play has its flaws -- the conclusion is abrupt -- the production, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, is first-class.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Ayad Akhtar makes no easy judgments in his politically pointed new play, a taut drama peppered throughout with corrosive humor about ideological differences -- and more significantly, overlaps...This new work...further cements Akhtar's reputation as an uncommonly astute observer of interfaith conflicts, tribalism and clashing cultural perspectives in the 21st century...What's more distinctive is the way The Invisible Hand deftly balances the edge-of-the-seat suspense of its prisoner-under-threat situation with a provocative examination of the psychological affinities between the two sides...That the finance-speak is not only digestible but also gripping is a testament to the writing, direction and performances. Kirk and Ally, in particular, do a mesmerizing dance in contrasting styles -- watchful, cunning and increasingly desperate on Nick's side, jumpy and dangerous in unexpected ways on Bashir's. It's riveting stuff.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Somebody give this playwright a Pulitzer. Oh, right -- Ayad Akhtar already has one, for a previous play, "Disgraced," which is currently running on Broadway. Although this new one continues the scribe's interest in the clashing ideologies of Americans and Muslims, "The Invisible Hand" is far more politically provocative, opening as it does in a Pakistani prison where an American banker is being held for ransom. Confounding initial indications, the play is not a captive narrative about pain and torture but a scary (and dreadfully funny) treatise on the universality of human greed.

Linda Winer, Newsday: ...it's a relief and a pleasure to report that "The Invisible Hand"...confirms the Pakistani-American playwright as one of the theater's most original, exciting new voices. In this tight, plot-driven thriller, Ahktar again turns hypersensitive subjects into thought-provoking and thoughtful drama...In director Ken Rus Schmoll's fast-moving production, talk of futures and options feels as urgent as Akhtar's insight into the cash-flow affected by the death of Osama bin Laden and threats to trade Nick for beheading. Kirk, a gifted actor who always suggests he's thinking more than he says, is both devious and touchingly sincere about what he calls the intoxication of making money. Ideals are tainted. Blood is spilled. And, once again, Akhtar makes gripping drama out of such an untheatrical virtue as profound evenhandedness.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: A little knowledge (plus access to world financial markets) is a very dangerous thing. So it goes in the taut new nailbiter from Ayad Akhtar...In "Invisible Hand," Akhtar deftly threads ideas about economics, extremism and the impact of intervention into a timely and relevant tale...Yes, at times the script is a bit slick. But the staging by Ken Rus Schmoll is also so suspenseful that you may find yourself watching through your fingers. The play's title refers to forces keeping the economy in equilibrium. Akhtar's own sure hand, a terrific cast and smart direction keep this gripping drama in balance.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: "The Invisible Hand" gives us guns, terrorism, violence, hostages -- even a daring escape attempt with nail clippers. But don't worry, there's nothing here to send your blood pressure soaring. Playwright Ayad Akhtar is less interested in creating compelling characters than Etch a Sketch mouthpieces that spout off talking points. The issues here are pretty much the same as they are in "Disgraced," Akhtar's Pulitzer-winning Broadway play: the relations between Islam and the Western world, as played out by troubled, highly ambivalent people...The show's title refers to the self-interest that helps regulate the free market...This is all well and good on an abstract level. But the show, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, never breaks a sweat. Having painted himself into a corner, Akhtar then gives us an ending that's a textbook definition of "anticlimactic." Whatever he's selling, we're not buying.

Jason Clark, Entertainment Weekly: If any theater writer could be described as 'having a moment' right now, it's Ayad Akhtar...New York Theatre Workshop's production of his latest drama...is quite possibly his most thematically ambitious to date: mapping how the desire for global money can trump terrorism even at its most ugly and unredeeming. But rich as the milieu is, the production unfolds at far too leisurely a pace to do justice to Akhtar's bold patterns of thought...director Ken Rus Schmoll's presentation has a languid quality that lets the tension flitter away like puffs of gunpowder smoke. And that quality extends to Kirk's performance as well. With his signature slackened drawl, Kirk conveys the more callow aspects of Nick's personality marvelously, and has a terrific rapport with Ally's believably conflicted torturer, but you're still left searching for a more complete person by play's end. B-

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: Akhtar has written a financial thriller that is every bit as arresting and nail-bite inducing as J.C. Chandor's "Margin Call"...director Ken Rus Schmoll presents a very realistic staging with an exceptional cast...Akhtar proved he is a master storyteller with "Disgraced," now performing on Broadway and not to be missed. "The Invisible Hand" displays a surer grasp of the narrative. He also knows how to seduce and set up an audience. His first act is a thriller, his second act is a lesson...Ally and Kashani handle their characters' power struggle in a seamless gradations of check points to see who's on top now. That ever-shifting hierarchy is enhanced by Jameal Ali's sympathetic but very obedient Dar. Watching Kirk go from denial to belligerence to frustration to despair to pride to dumbfounded shock is a master class in acting.

Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: With The Invisible Hand, Ayad Akhtar solidifies the reputation he forged with Disgraced as a first-rate writer of fierce, well-crafted dramas that employ topicality but are not limited by it...The Invisible Hand is not a perfect play: the consequences for what Nick does at the end of act one are a bit hard to credit. And I'm not convinced that Akhtar has found the most compelling solution to the question of Nick's bid for freedom. But the prime theme is pulsing and alive: when human lives become just one more commodity to be traded, blood eventually flows in the streets.

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