Monday, June 4, 2018

Review of "The Invisible Hand"

Hartford Theaterworks has done a huge favor for Connecticut theater-goers by restaging last season’s Westport Country Playhouse’s production of The Invisible Hand, winner of the 2017 Best Play award from the Connecticut Critics Circle..  This is a thoughtful and powerfully themed show that encompasses geopolitics, religious extremism, capitalist principles, and old-fashioned greed.
Anand Bhatt, Eric Bryant, and Fajer Kaisi in "The Invisible Hand."
The show centers around Nick Bright (Eric Bryant), a banking executive mistakenly kidnapped in Pakistan by the followers of Iman Saleem (Rajesh Bose).  He is housed in a small, dingy room guarded by Dar (Anand Bhatt), one of the leader’s disciples.  But it is Bashir (Fajer Kaisi), a fervent believer in the teachings and convictions of the Iman, that is the one to fear.  Passionate, disparaging, and suspicious of the American, he is charged to oversee and partner with Nick to raise his ransom of $10 million dollars through manipulating Pakistani financial markets.  A vacililating détente is forged as their work progresses until the entire enterprise is chaotically upended with unforeseen results.

Playwright Ayad Akhtar has crafted a play that offers complex characters and scenarios rich with multifaceted implications.  One of its strengths is the absence of moralizing or sermonizing, which allows for a more intricate synergy.  Deception and self-interest are also effectively incorporated into the work. There is much discussion of monetary trends and economics, but the material is presented in easily digestible nuggets that even audience members not well-versed in high finance will understand.
Rajesh Bose and Eric Bryant in "The Invisible Hand."
The cast is outstanding.  The three holdovers from last year’s Westport production – Eric Bryant, Fajer Kaisi, and Rajesh Bose - have become more accomplished and dynamic in their characterizations, finding a deeper resonance and the inner turmoil within their roles.  Eric Bryant, who received the Connecticut Critics Circle 2017 Best Actor award for his portrayal of Nick Bright, conveys a multitude of emotions as he seeks to survive his ordeal.  Rajesh Bose is chilling. with a laser focus in action and words.  Fajer Kaisi provides a finely layered performance.  At times cold-hearted and calculating, he also displays empathy and understanding of the bigger picture at hand. Anand Bhatt’s Dar, a secondary role, nonetheless gives a solid performance as the dutiful, unquestioning follower of the Iman.

Director David Kennedy utilizes the small Theaterworks stage as a way to ratchet up the show’s intensity and nightmarish quality.  He elicits compelling and weighty performances that are nuanced and bold.  The result is a taut and explosive production.

Kristen Robinson’s set design of the confined enclosure where Nick is imprisoned is tortuously realistic and claustrophobic in nature.  You can feel his anguish and desperation provoked by the gritty, deplorable chamber.

Fitz Patton’s sound design and Matthew Richards’ lighting lend an ominous and almost surreal aura to the play.  Harry Nadal’s costume designs may appear drab and functionary, but they stealthily convey status and the changing of the guard.

The Invisible Hand, a taut, chilling drama that produces no easy answers, playing at Theaterworks through June 23rd.

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