“The Invisible Hand” at ACT Theatre

The Playbill for this production includes this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” “The Invisible Hand” is a morality play about shifting power, power and money. The issues it presents will haunt you long after you leave the theatre.

In a cell block controlled by militant Islamists in Pakistan, Nick, an American stock market wizard, is subject to the indignities of captivity. His shackles are rarely removed and physical abuse is common fare. It’s a bleak future for Nick until he comes up with the idea of paying his own ransom. He’s convinced that his brilliance in playing the stock market will allow him to raise the millions of dollars necessary to assure his freedom, and he convinces his captors to allow him to try.

Nick, like so many market gurus, is very successful. As the monies roll in, little by little life gets better for him. The shackles are removed; his cell is better equipped; his new guard and he form a strong bond. Maybe soon, he’ll be able to return to his wife and child.

ACT-The Invisible Hand - Elijah Alexander and Connor Toms and comics  (c) Chris Bennion_thumb

Elijah Alexander and Connor Toms and comics
Photo: Chris Bennion

As Nick works his financial magic, playwright Ayad Akhtar works some magic of his own. Below the story of captive Nick are serious issues. What is the nature of friendship? What is the fallout of greed, of self interest? Exactly what is the nature and role of faith in contemporary life? Do you really understand the power of money or the subtleties of history? And perhaps you should review your interpretation of international politics? These are all issues considered in the play, but it’s never didactic or preachy. It would benefit from some judicious cutting in the first act, however.

Director Allen Nause reinforces the suspense of this tale with taut direction. Connor Toms as Nick and Elijah Alexander as Bashir, his main guard, are well-matched foils for one another, navigating the dangerous quagmire between buddy and enemy with finesse. William Ontiveros brings gravitas to his role as Imam Saleen.

This is a play for the thinking man and woman. Yet it’s so tightly wound, it’s also a treat for the aficionado of suspense. Will Nick succeed? At what cost?

Through Sept. 28 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

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