A Provocative Conversation Starter

​Review of The Invisible Hand at ACT by Vida Behar

The Invisible Hand

At once thought-provoking, action-packed, and moving, The Invisible Hand opens up a conversation. It tells the story of an American economist held captive in Pakistan and tackles hefty themes — the role of journalism, the relationship between money and God, tensions between America and the Middle East, the nature of greed, racial issues, political corruption, and the desire for power — along the way. As the play unfolds, it proves to be a study of the relationship between the protagonist and his captors, both in terms of prisoner versus warden and their larger, thematic representations, namely capitalism versus Islam.

To amplify the intensity of the setting, The Invisible Hand uses some very original techniques on stage. Immediately noticeable is the circular format of the stage, with the audience seated a full 360 degrees around it, creating an up-close-and-personal feel. Additionally, before the play even begins, the scene is set when the pre-play reminder to turn off cellphones is spoken in Punjabi with accompanying subtitles on a mounted TV screen. This preemptively gets the audience into the world of the play, setting the scene in a very impactful and original way.

The same TV screen also serves to inform the audience how much time has passed between scenes, which is far better than the characters saying so in a way that would have felt scripted and artificial. And when it makes contextual sense, the characters speak in Punjabi with subtitles on the screen. Adding even more to the reality of the play is the Pakistani music played between scenes. And the set itself is incredible, with the cinderblocks and the furniture of the prisoner’s cell looking very authentic.

The performance of Connor Toms as Nick, the American prisoner, is jolting and intoxicating, as he effectively depicts the intense anxiety and frustration of the captive. The same goes for Elijah Alexander as Bashir, one of Nick’s captors. The relationship between the characters is intense and complex, and the actors convey this impressively.

Though there are some confusing plot holes — in one scene it appears that Nick manages to escape his cell using a pair of nail scissors, wriggling out of the hole in the wall, but then he’s back in the cell in the very next scene — this play is definitely one to be seen. The Invisible Hand is provocative, original, exciting. And in light of its timely themes reflective of what’s happening in our world right now, it spurs important conversations worth having.

The Invisible Hand
September 5 - 28

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