The Invisible Hand | 03.09.12

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Ayhad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand asks a great many insightful questions about our apparent differences, but also about what makes us the same.

 

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The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Nick (John Hickok), a trade manager for a large bank, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped by a Pakistani terror group and held for a ransom that he, and his captors, know is far too high. His desperation for release back to his family forces him to bargain with the one thing he has: his skills as a trader. Bashir (Bhavesh Patel), his captor, is a radicalized Pakistani who grew up in London but returned to the land of his parents to take up the fight against a government that is corrupt and a system that far too often does not take care of its citizens. When we first see him, he carries a gun and speaks in taunts. Neither man would appear to have anything in common, but the taut, intermission-less 75-minute play bridges that gap with disastrous effects.

The play is mainly a dialogue between Nick and Bashir. Nick, a middle-aged American with a modicum of humanity and an understanding of the ebb and flow of the financial markets, clashes violently at first with Bashir’s burning radicalism. Both their viewpoints on the other are ill-informed: Their underlying humanity and intentions are blurred by layers of the caricatures we draw of those we don’t know. Yet they share connections and the play reveals Bashir (whose patter sounds like Aasif Mandvi on the Daily Show) as understanding more of Nick’s world than vice versa. The two men connect over the play’s journey in an odd partnership wherein Nick, in order to gain his freedom, works with his captor to invest in the financial markets. Bashir proves to be a willing student and a reverse Stockholm Syndrome appears to be taking place. The two men spar on American economic dominance after World War II—especially after Bashir finds and devours Nick’s Master’s thesis on Bretton Woods—with Nick claiming that dominance was used mainly for good and Bashir seeing advantage being taken and corruption. In the end, they seem to come to the agreement that those with the monetary advantage have the clout.

Ayhad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand asks a great many insightful questions about our apparent differences, but also about what makes us the same. Would we stop fighting if we just understood each other better? What justifies our actions and makes them “right?” Does economic might come with certain privileges and responsibilities? As the play’s title suggests—the “invisible hand” is the economic theory that the financial market takes in to account the self-interest of those trading and will correct for that self interest—and as Nick utters in the penultimate scene, it is all a question of intent.

The play almost has the feel of an economic ethics class, with some fascinating interplay between the characters about how we (East vs. West) see and treat others, pay attention to their beliefs, and act accordingly. Acting accordingly is what fuels the play’s surprising conclusion. The Invisible Hand is truly well-scripted and well-acted. The production, a world premiere, is an excellent first production for the Rep’s new Ignite! Festival, which is featuring new works by nationally recognized playwrights. | Jim Dunn

 

The Invisible Hand runs through March 25 in the Studio Theatre of the Loretto-Hilton Center. Visit the Repertory Theatre online at www.repstl.org. For further information on the Ignite! Festival plase visit www.repstl.org/ignite.

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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