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vancouverplays review


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The Invisible Hand, Munish Sharma, Shaker Paleja, & Craig Erickson. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

by Ayad Akhtar
Pi Theatre
The Cultch
April 5-26
From $20 or 604-251-1363

Pakistani-American playwright Ayad Akhtar made a splash here last fall with the Arts Club’s production of his Pulitzer prize winner Disgraced, which explored the dangers of Islamophobia and its effects on one man in an upscale New York setting. The Invisible Hand is a more intense and more broadly political exploration of the clash of civilizations. Like Disgraced, it has problems with its ending. But it’s a fine evening of political theatre of the sort we too rarely get to see, and a showcase for some absolutely excellent acting.

Craig Erickson, once again showing what a very fine actor he is, plays Nick, a trader for an American bank who has been kidnapped in Pakistan and is being held for $10 million ransom by an Imam (Shaker Paleja) unaffiliated with Al-Qaida or any of the other usual suspects. He tells Nick, “You’ve been robbing us blind for fifty years. We’re just taking back what’s ours.” When Nick realizes that no one will ever pay that much for him, he convinces the Imam to let him raise the ransom himself using his own capital to manipulate the Pakistani markets.

Nick isn’t allowed to touch the laptop. He must give instructions to his burly guard Bashir (Munish Sharma), who gathers the information he needs and makes the requisite investments and other moves on the computer. In the process Bashir learns the tricks of Nick’s trade with momentous, unforeseen consequences.

Like the recent revelations about international celebrities evading taxes via secret shell companies in Panama, The Invisible Hand tears away some of the façade behind which the rich and powerful—corporations and individuals—use unethical or illegal means to get richer and more powerful at the expense of the rest of us. In the 18th century, Adam Smith first made the classic laissez faire argument that “the invisible hand” of the market somehow inevitably channeled self-interested individual action into social good. “Greed is good,” as Michael Douglas’ character famously says in the 1987 movie Wall Street.

In this play we watch another kind of invisible hand at work, and an altogether different set of market forces it produces. Or maybe they’re not so different … Akhtar stumbles a little in giving Nick moments of moral outrage that don’t really resonate with the kind of character he is. Plus the ending, and the final look on Nick’s face as he realizes what he hath wrought, make for a didactic turn that the play surely doesn’t need.

That’s about the only misstep director Richard Wolfe makes in his fine Pi Theatre production. The pace and tension never sag. The entre-scenes are almost as exciting as the action itself due to Alan Brodie’s beautiful lighting and the music of Gordon Grdina and vocalist Fatieh Honari.

And in this Vancouver April of impressive performances the acting is outstanding. Erickson makes Nick’s long captivity seem terrifyingly real. A scene in which his young guard Dar (Conor Wylie) is ordered by the Imam to shoot him is excruciating. Sharma and Paleja do equally fine work as the captors who ultimately find the invisible hand working for each of them in conflicting ways.

Like George F. Walker’s Dead Metaphor, currently on at the Firehall, The Invisible Hand shows the chickens coming home to roost. The reality isn’t pretty but it makes for pretty good theatre.

Jerry Wasserman


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