Monday, March 16, 2015

The Invisible Hand—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

Addictive Power

This political drama is written by Ayad Akhtar and directed by Allen Nause.  It is playing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through April 5th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org  or call 503-241-1278.

Addiction is a powerful, driving force.  Whether it’s addiction to drugs, to religion, to electronics, to gambling, to power or to money, it can easily become an all-consuming obsession.  Once you have tasted the fruits of its tree, it can burrow its roots into you and control you.  Much of it has to do with an individual’s pursuit of his own self-interest, often without regard for the consequences to others.

An invisible hand or shadow force seems to take over at some point in this drive for…more…of whatever it’s offering.  It has often been alluded to that, especially in the film Network, countries are not really ruled by individual leaders but by world-wide conglomerates that pull the strings, mainly through money, for their own self-interests in controlling the world.  And the rest of us are merely puppets to their whims.

It is a frightening thought and this play, in some respects, explores such a dilemma.  If an individual could predict or control future events for his own gain, then the world is truly his oyster.  Nick Bright (Connor Toms) is a mid-level stock trader at a firm in Pakistan.  He is kidnapped, perhaps mistakenly, for ransom by a shadow organization in this country.  The leader of this movement is Imam Saleem (William Ontiveros) who wants 10 million dollars from the U.S. government and/or his family for his safe return.  But the U. S. does not negotiate with terrorists and his family can’t raise any more the 3 million, so they seem to be at an impasse.

But Nick has an alternate solution, which meets with some interest from two of Imam’s minions, Bashir (Imran Sheikh) and Dar (John San Nicolas).  Being a stock trader, Nick proposes that he can raise that kind of money, and more, for them through the Market.  This odd grouping seems to reach an uneasy truce as he teaches Bashir, a London-born revolutionary, the secrets of the Stock Market.  But, teacher beware, of educating an innocent into the wiles of the world, for you may have created a monster.

To reveal more would be giving away plot devices, but know that it does seem to have a ring of truth about it and is very relevant to our present-day, world-wide situations.  This event happens in Pakistan, since that is familiar for the author, but it could just as easily happen elsewhere in Africa, or China, or here, or any country trying to work its way out of poverty.  The dangers of corruption and greed and exclusive, self-interested are everywhere.  Trying to better yourself should be encouraged but you should also be aware of the responsibilities and consequences of such actions, too.

Nause is an inspired director for such a play, having directed plays internationally.  And, although heady with deep ideas and words, the play has a pounding rhythm that propels it forward.  Nause, being a fine actor himself, certainly understands actors and it shows in how they approach the material, giving us glimpses, one at a time, into the terrifying momentum of the events.

The actors all give us shades of gray, as to the coloring of their characters.  Is Dar just a simple minion or can he aspire to something greater?  Is Nick simply playing for time or is he caught up in the allure of power?  Is Imam Saleem really altruistic in his dreams of a better world for his people or is he falling under the hypnotic power of greed and self-interest?  Can Bashir use his newly acquired knowledge for good or will he succumb to the “way of all flesh?”  These actors are amazing in throwing out crumbs for us to chew on without completely satisfy our hunger, and that’s as it should be.  Keep in mind, “absolute power corrupts absolutely!”

I recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.