Review “The Invisible Hand” (Steep Theatre): Puts us in the room and lets the walls close in!

Monday, October 16, 2017 Permalink
Steep Theatre presents THE INVISIBLE HAND.
An American banker kidnapped in Pakistan might be reported on CNN. It, at least, would likely be an article under international happenings in a newspaper. Details about the captivity, personal negotiations for survival, the pain, the panic, the tedium would be glossed over for the short factual blurb. The real story untold. THE INVISIBLE HAND reminded me of the importance of theatre. If I heard about a kidnapped banker on CNN or read about it in the NYT, it would be lost in the myriad of other local, national and international bad stuff. At Steep, I was forced to spend time in a one room prison to understand this banker isn’t a story, he’s a human being.
Playwright Ayad Akhtar impressively uses his four characters to show us the many angles of human behavior. Each person is negotiating for a better life. Multiple power struggles erupt as greed seeps into the revolution. Scenic Designer Ashley Ann Wood has fashioned a believable prison cell.  Director Audrey Francis puts us in the room and lets the walls close in. As Joel Reitsma paces and plots, the audience is pulled into the tension. When Reitsma is attempting an escape, I’m holding my breath and watching the door like an assigned lookout. Reitsma gives an exhausting performance; physically, emotionally, intellectually. He is quick to curry favor with each of his persecutors. He learns the person’s wants and uses it to his advantage. The show opens with Anand Bhatt (Dar) gently trimming Reitsma’s nails. The interaction is almost tender. Later, Reitsma is hard-selling a skeptical Bassam Abdelfattah (Imam Saleem) on a get-rich scheme. And in the primary relationship, Reitsma teaches Owais Ahmed (Bashir) over time how to manipulate futures. The lines blur between who is in charge, who is wearing the golden handcuffs, who is fighting for the people and who is truly free. Nothing is easily defined. Everything is more complicated. These lives are messy.
THE INVISIBLE HAND pushes us into an uncomfortable place. We see the desperation of oppressed people. We learn how money can fund a revolution. We understand greed brings out the worst in human nature. We just don’t know who is more right than wrong. THE INVISIBLE HAND will have you mulling over an American banker being kidnapped long after you’re released from your Pakistan cell.
Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes includes an intermission
At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn
by Ayad Akhtar
directed by Audrey Francis
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru November 11
Photos by Lee Miller and Gregg Gilman
For more information and reviews on Chicago theatre, visit Theater in Chicago.

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