Money, greed and power plays in Gulfshore Playhouse’s “The Invisible Hand”

“Making money can be intoxicating,” proclaims a character in “The Invisible Hand” (at Gulfshore Playhouse through April 16).

“Greed is like a silkworm: the more it wraps itself in a cocoon, the less chance it has of escaping,” says another.

And Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar’s four-man play proceeds to demonstrate just how greed for more money can consume us — an interesting topic to stage in Naples, which has often been called the billionaire’s playground.

Set in 2014 Pakistan, Nick (Kohler McKenzie), an American investment banker, is being held prisoner by a militant group that is hated by the Taliban.

Nick’s captors are holding him for ransom; they want $10 million. He knows they’ll never get that.

In desperation, bargaining for his life, he tells them he can teach them how to make money by manipulating the global market. It’s all numbers and the thrill of the game for Nick, until he realizes his actions can cause death for others.

We’re introduced to his three captors — three different menn in various stages of life and station. We first meet Dar (Rishi Mukherjee) whom Nick befriends, telling him how to make more money with his cousin’s potato crop.

Bashir (Aby Moongamackel) is a different story, though. Born in London and somewhat westernized, he plays mind games with Nick, despite a somewhat grudging respect.

Bashir speaks with British colloquialisms blended into his talk, a reflection of his upbringing.

And Tony Mirrcandani plays Imam Saleem with the dignity and deportment of a king. He is the man in charge. He’s intrigued with Nick, but only concerned with how he can get his ransom.

This is a play about four men using each other, all in the name of profit.

It’s staged on a stark, unforgiving set (by Riw Rakkulchon), with cold and claustrophobic concrete walls, with only a bare table, chairs, and a thin rickety cot. Four industrial lights hang from a ceiling and a narrow, horizontal barred window shows light from the outside world. (Lighting by Jose Santiago.)

But it is the music and soundscape created by Michael Keck that brings this environment to life. The play opens with ominous music that includes the sounds of scraping metal and chains and ends with the sound of rotating helicopter blades. The sounds throughout the show never overwhelm it but enhance it tremendously, an outstanding layer to creating this world onstage.

Costume designer Renee Baker has outfitted the Pakistanis in hybrid outfits with some American clothes — blue jeans under a tunic (shalwar kameez), trendy boots, a shirt with a Polo insignia, a baseball jacket. It made me wonder if it was to represent mixed viewpoints or if they’d raided Nick’s suitcase and were wearing them as trophies.

“Being rich does not give you moral superiority,” says the Ima mat one point. But the rich are the ones in power.

Nick’s American life and his captivity in Pakistan have some interesting parallels, including corrupt bosses who take credit for their underlings’ work and Archie comic books.

“The Invisible Hand,” directed by Gulfshore Playhouse CEO and producing artistic director Kristen Coury, contains plenty of suspense and plot twists. Where it slows down is when the men engage in lengthy discussions about economic theory and the marketplace. And sometimes the characters just seem to be mouthpieces representing varying social and political viewpoints.

“He who controls the currency controls the power,” says Bashir.

“The Invisible Hand” is one big power struggle.

What do we do when our backs are against the wall? When our very existence is threatened?

How do we respond when we realize our actions and choices may not be moral and have consequences?

“The Invisible Hand” raises these questions and others, producing much fodder for post-show discussions. 

Nancy Stetson, Florida Weekly

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