There are shows that you see because you want to escape into a warm fuzzy world. There are shows that you see because they are Great Works and you take your medicine so you can write a “5 Plays I Saw That Make Me More Cultured Than You” blog.
But then there are shows that remind you that theatre is vital, revealing, and will survive the Internet Age. The West Coast premiere of “The Invisible Hand” at ACT is one of those. If you love theatre and are invested in its future, it is important that you see this production.
Written by the Pulitzer-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, “The Invisible Hand” is a riveting tete-a-tete between Nick, an American investment banker, and his kidnapper Bashir, an Islamic militant, with the occasional nail-biting scene with a cagey imam (played with deceptive befuddlement by William Ontiveros). When the militants find out that Nick isn’t high-ranking enough to illicit a decent ransom, he has to figure out a way to come up with millions of dollars from his underground cell or never see the light of day again. The pendulum of power swings back and forth as alliances are formed and destroyed, and ethics tested.
Elijah Alexander is a force to be reckoned with as Bashir, the English ex-pat who disavowed Western culture and joined the Islamic revolution in Pakistan. His physicality is powerful and dangerous, his piercing eyes striking, as he lords over Nick’s prison, happily suited to being the bad cop and deferring to the imam only when forced. Connor Toms does an excellent turn as Nick Bright, a quick thinking, money making genius who had the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What’s interesting about this show is that it’s not a soapbox play about the evils of American military intervention, religious extremism, and how bankers are soulless jerks. While the play is framed by these topics, it mostly focuses on the relationship between Nick and Bashir and explores how blurry is too blurry when talking about a person’s moral boundaries.
The writing is excellent, although a few of the scenes could be combined rather than chopped into “Two Days Later” then “Three Days After That” blocks. There’s no doubt that actors are brilliant enough to emote changing opinions and discoveries over the course of a longer scene and sometimes I longed for an experience a la Rajiv Joseph’s intoxicating “North Pool.” That being said, the production keeps the stakes high and, admirably, even though there is talk of torture and murder, there isn’t a lot of live gratuitous violence. The ending could use a little more punch and this play could definitely handle it, but it does put you in the same “Uhh, what now?” mind space as Nick. But between the intelligent script, the talented actors, the wonderfully understated production values, and cunning direction, it’s still a night of theatre that reminds you how it’s done.
“The Invisible Hand”
Runs through September 28th
Pay-What-You-Can Sunday shows and Thurs Mats
$20 Every Tuesday
$55 for regular adult tickets
206 292 7676 or www.acttheatre.org