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“The Invisible Hand”

Westport Country Playhouse

 

“The Invisible Hand,” currently being presented at Westport Country Playhouse, is a tense and disturbing political drama.  As written by playwright Ayad Akhtar and excellently directed by David Kennedy, this play is dramatized in a series of short, sometimes violent scenes.  Last season, I saw Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play, “Disgraced,” at Long Wharf Theatre and found it to be devastating.  If “The Invisible Hand” is not quite as potent as “Disgraced,” it still makes for good theatre.  There is a superb four member cast and the director has certainly given “The Invisible Hand” a top-notch production.  If this play will never be everyone’s cup of tea, it is still quite an experience for those who are willing to take the ride.

The plot is rather simple: an American banker is kidnapped and held hostage in Pakistan, with his ransom being set at ten million dollars.  During the course of the play, this man must attempt to use his expert trading skills in the stock market to raise the money to buy his freedom.  We are also told that this character, Nick Bright, played by the terrific Eric Bryant, is married with a young son in America.  At the start of the play, it almost seems that Nick Bright has mistakenly been kidnapped, but he still, nonetheless, must pay the ten million dollars in order to be set free.

There is just a one-unit set, cunningly designed by scenic designer Adam Rigg, that represents Nick Bright’s prison cell.  What’s most interesting about the set design, is that the stage floor is presented on an angle, with a piece of the set extending into the audience.  This jagged image serves the play extremely well, considering the power plays that occur during the show and how intense and surprising this drama becomes.

In addition to Eric Bryant as Nick, there are three other characters, all flawlessly portrayed.  When the curtain rises, we see Dar (the somber Jameal Ali), serving as a somewhat simple-minded prison guard, but one that, at least initially, is sympathetic to Nick’s plight. In ascending order of power in the play, there is also the frightening Fajer Kaisi as Bashir, who is assigned to learn how the stock market works as he attempts to help Nick raise the money for his ransom.  Finally, above all in “The Invisible Hand,” there is Imam Saleem, played by the commanding Rajesh Bose, who is definitely calling all the shots at the start of the play.

I would be loath to give any more of the plot away, considering how scary and unexpected the play becomes.  Suffice it is to say that the playwright’s choice of very short scenes works brilliantly in “The Invisible Hand,” as one begins to lose track of how much time occurs between scenes and exactly how long Nick Bright is left imprisoned.  Indeed, the use of a series of intense, staccato sequences creates something of a dizzying and hallucinatory effect.

All is not quite what it seems in “The Invisible Hand,” which just adds to the power of the play.  It should be mentioned that Emily Rebholz’s costume design and Matthew Richards’ lighting design are just about ideal in creating the claustrophobic world of a Pakistan prison, in which there truly seems to be no escape.

After seeing Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” and now, “The Invisible Hand” at Westport Country Playhouse, it is clear that this playwright is definitely one to watch, just to see his perspective of the world as both a Muslim and Pakistani-American.  “The Invisible Hand” is by no means a cheering play, but Westport Country Playhouse definitely deserves to be cheered for presenting such a provocative and political work in such a first class production.

“The Invisible Hand” continues at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT through August 6, 2016.  For tickets, please visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.

Photo, L-R: Rajesh Bose, Eric Bryant and Fajer Kaisi

Photo by Carol Rosegg

 

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