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Review: THE INVISIBLE HAND in Westport

The Westport Country Playhouse's promise of "theater worth talking about" more than deliverse in its production of Ayad Akhtar's play, The Invisible Hand. Here's the story: Nick Bright (Eric Bryant), an American trader working for a Citibank in Pakistan, is kidnapped by fundamentalists. His ransom is $10,000,000, but no one will pay it because the group is on an international terrorist watch list. He convinces his captors that he is worth more alive than dead to them and to give him time to raise the money. He does it the only way he knows how - by trading. He already taught one of his jailers, Dar (Jameal Ali), to save potatoes and then sell them at a profit when the price goes up. Now he will teach Bashir (Fajer Kaisi), an assistant to Imam Saleem (Rajesh Bose), how to trade options on currency. Both his students, despite their professed religious beliefs, are hooked on the thrill of fast money. (Who wouldn't be?) But as good as Nick is at trading, he is bested by Bashir, who is a quick study. The plot thickens with the entrance of Imam Saleem, whom many revere. Supposedly the ransom money is to go to "the people" who need a new irrigation system in order to sustain their farming. But, as Bashir notes, "He who has the money has the power" and as Saleem says, "We are prisoners of our corrupt country of our own making."

The play, which runs one hour and 55 minutes with a 15-minute interruption, is gripping, but it is rather too long. There is a lot that Akhtar wants us to know about Islam, Western perceptions of Pakistanis and Islam, global relationships, and the seduction of money. The title refers to Adam Smith's explanation that the Invisible Hand guides free markets and capitalism, but it really takes on multiple meanings in the play. The invisible hand guides the money away from its intended destination and that manipulates global markets. The play is brilliantly written, but could be tightened a bit). David Kennedy's direction is a benign invisible hand, flawlessly guiding the complexities of the play. All the actors give first-rate performances and give their characters depth and credibility. No clichés here, even though some of it is predictable because we have known too many corrupt societies and too many acts of terrorism.

The clear and pleasant voice of Liv Rooth, a veteran of Westport Country Playhouse shows, is briefly heard as Nick's wife in a video. (Come back to Westport, Liv!). Credit also goes to Adam Rigg for the set, Matthew Richards for the lighting design, Fitz Patton for sound, and Emily Rebholz for costumes.

The Invisible Hand runs through August 6 at the Westport Country Playhouse. For tickets and information on special events and discussions, visit The Westport Country Playhouse is located at 25 Powers Court, Westport. 203-227-4177.

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