BWW Review: THE INVISIBLE HAND at TheaterWorks
Money is a funny thing. It has a certain pull to it that has been inspiring (and corrupting) people since the beginning of time. Those who understand the complex world of money and finance can be assets to their employers (and themselves), and in some rare cases, such as the harrowing tale behind Ayad Akhtar's THE INVISIBLE HAND, money can be a life-saver.
THE INVISIBLE HAND, as is currently playing at TheaterWorks in Hartford is a mounting of the critically acclaimed production that played the Westport Country Playhouse in the summer of 2016. It is not often that a production such as this finds life in a different setting, but with the same creative team and, for the most part, the cast. A few changes have been made to work in TheaterWorks smaller space (which work quite well based on the setting of the play in a Pakistani prison cell), but overall the production recreates the production that wowed audiences a couple years ago in Westport.
THE INVISIBLE HAND is the story of Nick Bright (Eric Bryant), a young, successful American investment banker who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and is kidnapped in Pakistan by Imam Saleem (Rajesh Bose). Nick is held in a solitary cell and is threatened and beaten as one might expect from the situation. Just when things look grim, Nick convinces his captors to let him use his understanding of the slippery world of investment banking to raise his $10 million ransom. Thus starts Nick's frantic efforts to make good on the deal, and, subsequently, the education of Bashir (Fajer Kaisi), the rough and violent protégé of the Imam. Bashir takes to the concepts quickly as Nick teaches (which also allows the audience to better understand the plot and financial methods being discussed.) Over the course of the play Bashir shares with Nick his perspective on American involvement in his country and what he believes are the biggest issues in Pakistan.
At its core, THE INVISIBLE HAND is about the stark differences between cultures and provides an intense and visceral lesson on international finance. Ayad Akhtar's writing is brilliant, capturing the struggles between captive and captor and the more personal, human moments between the characters. He also writes in a way that makes even complicated financial exercises immensely accessible. Director David Kennedy utilizes the cramped space and the close quarters of Nick's cell to drive home a sense of terror and urgency. Like Nick, the audience never know if the familiar, comfortable exchange it is witnessing may turn to a violent outburst (or worse) in the next moment. As Nick, Mr. Bryant is scared, yet determined to do what it takes to see his family again. He delivers Nick's most terrifying moments with such raw emotion it is hard not to want to leap up and try and save him. As Nick's captor and, dare I say, frenemy, Bashir, Fajer Kaisi is smoldering, yet a little damaged and looking for answers. He is mysterious and complex and brings Bashir to vivid life. As the powerful and controlling Imam Saleem, Rajesh Bose is calculating and sinister. Just when he starts to warm up to Nick, things take a quick and violent turn. Finally, as Dar, Anand Bhatt is timid and reserved yet willing to do whatever the Imam asks of him, regardless of the cost.
The creative elements of THE INVISIBLE HAND work together brilliantly to provide a sense of realism and to transport the audience to Nick's dingy and terrifying cell including Kristen Robinson's set design, Matthew Richard's lighting and Fitz Patton's sound design.
Overall, TheaterWork's THE INVISIBLE HAND is a thrilling, engaging, and imminently satisfying hostage drama. All of the theatrical elements come together well to tell this tale brilliantly. The action is constant as is the emotional investment in Nick and his plight, and audiences are sure to leave the theatre with something to think about and talk about afterwards.
THE INVISIBLE HAND runs at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through June 23. TheaterWorks is located at 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For more information call 860-527-7838 or go to theaterworkshartford.org
Photo credits: Lanny Nagler