Terrorists are driven by different motivations. Some for religion, some for “the people” and some for power. In Ayad Akhtar’s play, The Invisible Hand, now at the Westport Country Playhouse, audiences are transported to a Pakistani prison cell where Nick Bright has been held by terrorists who want a ransom of $10 million for his release. The problem is that since the Imam Saleem is officially declared a terrorist, the Americans will not negotiate for Nick’s release.
That doesn’t stop the American from doing his own negotiating. He convinces his captors that he can raise the money himself if allowed access to the stock exchange, where he can buy and sell futures. He is confident that he can raise enough money to earn his freedom.
The deal is agreed upon, but with complications. He cannot use the laptop and all transactions have to be done through one of the terrorists, Bashir. Essentially, Nick has to teach Bashir the complicated ins and outs of investing in futures. Remarkably, Bashir, who wants the money for “the people” – is a fast learner and shocks Nick with his ability to make more money than Nick ever dreamed possible. Bashir is able to manipulate the market.
While the playwright has some clever twists and turns in this work, overall, it does not measure up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced. The big difference is that Disgraced focuses on people coming to terms with their culture. This play’s biggest flaw is that it focuses more on money making than the human beings involved.
At times the play becomes heavy with stock market analysis and world economics. Certainly, anyone involved in investments will find this play not only timely but enlightening. However, too much explanation detracts from the action. There are other problems with the play including the sudden cliffhanger ending. Billed as a thriller, it manages to justify that title only slightly and that because of the sound effects and the lighting design. Without these two components, it wouldn’t be much of a thriller at all. It also breaks at a point in the play that is rather anti-climatic.
The play addresses greed, the ugly American obsession with money, and the blood thirsty terrorists who have various reasons for actions. The terrorists in this play claim that they are not the barbaric “off with their heads” variety, but the kind who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot one in the head. Nick’s attempt to escape is as ludicrous as his ability to carve out heavy rocks with a finger file.
However, the Westport Country Playhouse does an exceptional job of producing this play. The cast is first rate and stars Eric Bryant as Nick Bright, the banker who was erroneously kidnapped. The terrorists thought they had kidnapped Nick’s big bucks boss.
Bryant creates a smart character who actually gets caught up with the excitement of proving his point when it comes to investing. Jameal Ali plays Dar, the obedient guard who befriends the prisoner and is punished for doing so. Rajesh Bose plays Imam Saleem whose power and greed are more important than his word. Fajer Kaisi steps into the role of the fast learner who not only enjoys making money but manages to surpass his teacher’s goals.
Directed by David Kennedy, scenic designer Adam Rigg’s exterior of the set is so weird and convoluted that I had to go up and check it out during intermission. It is a three-dimensional box-type creation that sticks out beyond the fourth wall before the show starts, and during intermission. My best explanation is that it represents an enclosed prison cell that keeps a prisoner “boxed” in. Matthew Richards’ lighting design and Fitz Patton’s sound design are crucial to the play. Emily Rebholz’s costume design is realistically portrayed. The Invisible Hand plays through Aug. 6. Box office: 203-227-4177.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]