drama ‘The Invisible Hand,’ these concepts are explored in ways that might not be particularly fresh or groundbreaking, but serve as above-average grist for smart, serious theater-making.
Directed with an almost cinematic attention to detail by Jasson Minadakis, ‘The Invisible Hand’ runs through June 26 at Marin Theatre Company, in Mill Valley.
The company’s sprawling stage has been somehow shrunk, the brilliant set by Kat Conley transforming it into a grimy brick prison cell in Pakistan, where American banker Nick Bright is being held after a daylight kidnapping that was intended to nab Nick’s much more important boss.
The mistake turns out to be bad for both everyone.
With Nick not a big enough fish for his bank to cough up the required ten million dollar ransom—as Nick is brutally informed by the English-born kidnapper Bashir—the frightened businessman soon realizes he’s never getting out of this cell alive. Encouraged by the kindness of a sympathetic jailer named Dar, Nick makes a desperate offer to Imam Saleem, the religious leader who claims he needs Nick’s ransom money to build roads and feed the poor.
If allowed access to information and a computer, Nick says, he can raise the ransom himself, using the stock market and a series of tricky insider trading moves.
It’s a great idea, and for the first half of the play, as Nick trades his way to a million, then three million, then five million, the tension rises powerfully, added to by quiet scenes of Nick patiently working to dig his way out of the cell at night.
The second act loses much that torturous tension, or more accurately, allows it to evolve into a different kind of torture, as a series of setbacks lead Nick—and all us watching—to begin to doubt he’ll ever reach his goal and earn his freedom.
The playwright’s best idea is that the enemy of the story is not the kidnappers, but the destructive power of money itself. Unfortunately, this is explained through long exposition-heavy conversations that, while rich with information, are a bit like listening to an economics lecture in college.
Director Minadakis and his team of designers work hard to keep things moving, employing a brilliant soundscape during scene changes that opens up the story’s constricted world. Other effects, from light streaming through the window, the sounds of drones and bombings outside, and a nicely done bit of offstage violence, are expertly coordinated.
But much of the onstage violence is as unconvincing has the actors’ ever-shifting accents, and the performances, though solid, rarely soar to the degree we’ve come to expect from a Marin Theater Company production. “The Invisible Hand’ has much to say—perhaps a little too much—but while it is an important message, it’s not an especially new message. Still, it’s a bit of a thrill just to be seeing things on stage that we usually only see on episodes of ‘24’.
Like Nick working the markets, ‘The Invisible Hand’ doesn’t always deliver on its promises, but when it does, it’s a real rush.
‘The Invisible Hand’ runs Tuesdays through Thursdays at Marin Theater Company. Marintheatre.org.