The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar is a riveting political drama now playing at Olney Theatre Center under the direction of Michael Bloom. It will move you and keep you on the edge of your seat while imparting a few lessons on the role of economics in political upheavals and terrorism around the world.
The story opens on Nick Bright (Thomas Keegan) who has been captured by terrorists in Pakistan and is being held for ransom. Nick is guarded by Dar (Ahmad Kamal) whom Nick has tried to help earn a little extra money for his family. It is clear that the bank where Nick is employed is not interested in paying his ransom.
We shortly meet Bashir (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh), a very bitter man, angry at his treatment in England and angry at the way the western powers, especially the United States, have manipulated his country politically, by supporting corrupt leaders, and economically. He makes it clear that Nick’s life means nothing to him. Into this mix enters Imam Saleem (Mueen Jahan), an ideal-spouting cleric with whom Nick and Dar have aligned themselves. Imam Saleem’s group needs money to help the Pakistani people obtain medicine and build roads and infrastructure.
Nick realizes he has to make himself valuable to the terrorists and offers to help them make his ransom by investing wisely in local stock exchanges. Bashir is ordered to help Nick and learn from him. The two begin to work together, and as they learn from each other, their interactions become the focus of the drama. Their exchanges are filled with tension as the stakes are high for each man. Bashir is unpredictable. Nick starts to lose hope. There are many twists and turns, and when the play is over, we can’t believe time went so quickly.
The acting is top notch. Keegan as Nick starts to crumble both physically and emotionally before our eyes. We are sympathetic to his plight while realizing that he never thought about how his economics negatively affected the lives of the people in not just Pakistan, but in depressed areas around the world. It is only through working with Bashir that his eyes are starting to open. Keegan brings great nuance to the role.
It would be hard to find a better portrayer of Bashir than Ebrahimzadeh, who completely embodies this character. He becomes Bashir, from the lower-class London accent to the Arabic he speaks. Of all the characters in the play, Bashir evolves the most and Ebrahimzadeh’s nuanced portrayal allows us to see subtle changes in his character.
Jahan as the Imam is also brilliant in creating a portrait of someone who is charismatic but who we instantly don’t trust. His creation of the Imam gives us, through looks and nods, clues to what will happen.
Kamal’s Dar is both likable and detestable. We see him as a human at the beginning dealing with Nick but also see his callousness in following orders without thinking. It is through Dar that the playwright expresses his views on terrorists, people who are capable of great violence in the midst of their everyday lives due to their ignorance and desperation.
The staging by Bloom is masterful. The intimate space at the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab brings us into the middle of the drama. Bloom makes us feel that we are there watching the drama unfold in real time. This is greatly helped by Scenic Designer Luciana Stecconi who creates this small hellhole where Nick is imprisoned. The Lighting Designer, Jesse Belsky, also creates an atmosphere of fear but also of hope. There is a tiny window, and light shines through it even when things are looking dismal for Nick.
Thumbs up to Costume Designer Ivania Stack, Sound Designer Roc Lee, Dialect Coach Zach Campion and Fight Choreographer Robb Hunter for jobs well done. They all help to create the mood of The Invisible Hand.
The Invisible Hand is not to be missed. If you see nothing else this year, you need to see this compelling and insightful drama. This production is unforgettable.
Running Time: 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.