The ACT’s west coast premiere of Ayad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand rolls with an unsettling energy from opening scene to final curtain. Set in a dreary bunker in remote Pakistan, we meet Nick Bright, a successful investor now kidnapped by an Islamic militant group. The subject could not by more timely and important. I attended opening night on September 11, where artistic director Kurt Beattie reminded us all that theater is a crucial source for important conversations. This dynamic play certainly fulfilled its assignment and more.
The invisible hand refers to a market condition where a larger force ensures that individual self-interest will inevitably lead to the common good for financial markets. Akhtar is able to feature these economic concerns against the background of a culture clash between Western and Muslim identities. It is fascinating to watch what happens as the Pakistanis merge into a modern world filled with computers, money, power and greed.
An outstanding Connor Toms plays Nick, who seems destined to remain a hostage until he is able to convince his captors that he can make them lots and lots of money if he can ply his trading skills from this rural outpost. Elijah Alexander as Bashir and William Ontiveros as Imam Saleem are the captors he must persuade. The acting simply crackles with a startling energy. All three of the leads have crucial soul bearing moments on stage, and they ace every one of them.
Akhtar, an accomplished novelist, screenwriter and Pulitzer winning playwright, doesn’t let the ponderous ideas behind his play get in the way of an entertaining evening. In the program he notes, “Audiences love to learn new things. And if you can do it in a delightful way, it leads to some very, very, profoundly satisfying theatrical experiences.” This play delights indeed, filled with dare devil escape plots, surprising character twists and a unique take on the Stockholm Syndrome, that eerie condition where hostages express sympathy and bond with their captors.
Director Allen Nause keeps the action moving at a brisk clip and makes effective use of t.v. monitors posted throughout the venue. Sound designer Brendan Patrick Hogan fills the theater with the ominous barking of dogs and the humming of drones. The ACT has skillfully packaged a stellar evening of thought- provoking entertainment.
The Invisible Hand runs through September 28 at the ACT in a co-production with Artists Repertory Theatre of Portland, Oregon. ACT Theatre is located at 700 Union Street in Seattle. For tickets call (206) 292-7660 or use the ACT website: www.acttheatre.org.