The Invisible Hand (play)

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Poster of UK Premiere at The Tricycle Theatre

The Invisible Hand[1] is a play written by playwright, novelist, and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar.[2] The play centers around American banker, Nick Bright, specializing in the Pakistani futures market who is kidnapped by a terrorist organization looking to protect local community interests. It examines the nature of greed and pits the pervasive philosophy of capitalism against Islamic fanaticism, revealing unifying human passions, underlying tensions, and failings that span the ideological spectrum.

The play received its world premiere as a one act play at The Repertory Theatre of St Louis in 2012.[3] The play then was produced in an expanded two-act version respectively at A Contemporary Theatre[4] in Seattle and New York Theatre Workshop.[5] The Invisible Hand had its London premiere at the Tricycle Theatre in 2016 with a revised second act.[6] The New York production received an OBIE Award for playwriting[7] and won the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award.[8]


Mistaken for his boss, futures trader Nick Bright is kidnapped by an organization in Pakistan that is trying to affect positive change for Pakistan's local citizens, and is led by Imam Saleem. At the opening of the play, Nick befriends his jail guard, Dar, and convinces him to use the supply and demand chain in Pakistan to make some extra money trading potatoes on the side. Dar's complicity with the prisoner upsets his captor, Bashir, but also gives him an idea, using his financial knowledge to benefit the terrorist group. When the Imam Saleem is placed on the US terrorism list, the possibility of a healthy ten million ransom becomes impossible. Leveraging his knowledge of financial market, Nick comes to an arrangement with Bashir and the Imam to allow him to raise his ransom on the stock market, during which time, he will teach Bashir about how to manage the financials of his organization.

Using the information available to them, Nick teaches Bashir about the futures market and how one hedges bets on a small remote laptop. As money and information begin to flood into the terrorist organization, supposedly benchmarked for the people of Pakistan, tensions begin to rise between Bashir and the Imam. This conflict culminates in the Imam testing Bashir's will at the end of the first act, reminding him of his position and loyalty. The evening after this terrifying confrontation, Nick escapes his prison.

Recaptured in the second act, Nick has lost any trust with both Bashir and the Imam as their conflict intensifies. Covert money transfers and laundering schemes are developed and loyalties to the cause of the Pakistani people come under siege. Nick finds himself in the middle of a battle within the organization. As the government begins to monitor the group's activity, Nick suggests to the Imam that he park their cash in illiquid assets, such as real estate. Bashir subsequently follows the Imam, discovering him purchasing real estate with his wife and casting doubt onto his distribution of their newfound wealth. In a decisive move, Bashir throws a coup and overthrows the Imam, leaving Nick with no clear ally. At the end of the play Bashir reveals that he has put Nick's teachings to good use, taking the entire Pakistani currency hostage. Nick has earned his ransom and his freedom, and Bashir leaves him a free man—in the middle of a war zone.[1]


The world premiere at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis had a cast of John Hickok as Nick, Ahmed Hassan as Dar, Bhavesh Patel played Bashir and Michael James Reed played James and the Guard. The production was directed by Seth Gordon and the creative team had a scenic design by Scott Neale, costume designer by Lou Bird, lighting design by Ann Wrightson, sound design by Rusty Wandall and was stage managed by Champe Leary.[3]

The West Coast Premiere production at A Contemporary Theatre had Connor Toms playing Nick, Erwin Galan playing Dar, Elijah Alexander performing the role of Bashir and William Ontiveros playing Imam Saleem. The production was directed by Allen Nause and the creative team included a scenic design by Matthew Smucker, costume design by Rose Pederson, lighting design by Kristeen Willis Crosser, sound design by Brendan Patrick Hogan and the production was stage managed by JR Welden.[9]

Poster from NYTW Production

The New York Premiere included Justin Kirk as Nick, Jameal Ali as Dar, Usman Ally as Bashir, and Dariush Kashani as Imam Saleem. The production was directed by Ken Rus Schmoll and had scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by ESOSA, lighting design by Tyler Micoleau, sound design by Leah Gelpe, Dialect Coach Stephen Gabis, fight direction by Thomas Schall and was stage managed by Megan Schwarz Dickert.[5]

The Tricycle Theatre Cast included Daniel Lapaine as Nick, Sid Sagar as Dar, Parth Thakerar as Bashir, and Tony Jayawardena as Imam Saleem. The production is directed by Indhu Rubasingham and design team included design by Lizzie Clachan, lighting design by Oliver Fenwick, and sound design by Alexander Caplen.[6]

The following table shows the casts of the principal original productions:

Role A Contemporary Theatre[10] New York Theatre Workshop[5] Tricycle Theatre[11]
Nick Connor Toms Justin Kirk Daniel Lapaine
Dar Erwin Galan Jameal Ali Sid Sagar
Bashir Elijah Alexander Usman Ally Parth Thakerar
Imam Saleem William Ontiveros Dariush Kashani Tony Jayawardena

Production History[edit]

Theatre Opening Date Closing Date Details Perfs.
Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis[3] March 7, 2012 March 25, 2012 World Premiere ?
A Contemporary Theatre[4] September 4, 2014 September 28, 2014 West Coast Premiere ?
New York Theatre Workshop[5] November 19, 2014 January 4, 2015 New York Premiere ?
Tricycle Theatre[6] May 18, 2016 July 2, 2016 London Premiere ?

Awards and nominations[edit]

Off-Broadway Production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2015 Obie Award Acting Usman Ally Won [7]
Playwriting Ayad Akhtar Won[7]
Outer Critics Circle Award John Gassner Award Won[8]
Henry Hewes Design Award Scenic Design Riccardo Hernandez Won[12]
Lucille Lortel Awards Outstanding Play Ayad Akhtar Nominated[13]
Outstanding Director Ken Rus Schmoll Nominated[13]
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play Usman Ally Nominated[13]
Outstanding Lighting Design Tyler Micoleau Nominated[13]
Outstanding Sound Design Leah Gelpe Nominated[13]

Premiere Production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2012 St. Louis Critics Circle Awards Outstanding New Play Ayad Akhtar Won[14]
2012 Steinberg/ACTA Best New Play Award Best New Play Ayad Akhtar Nominated[15]

Critical Response[edit]

Book Cover from Little, Brown Edition

The Invisible Hand opened to widely positive reviews in all of its primary productions. Charles Isherwood of the New York Times described the New York Theatre Workshop production as a play that "raises probing questions about the roots of the Islamic terrorism that has rattled the world for the last decade and more."[16] In the Seattle Times, Misha Berson notes that the play provides a "setup for a fierce psychological match, and a useful colloquy on the American dollar as a force for good and evil."[17] Calvin Wilson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch names Akhtar a "consummate entertainer" whose characters are "intriguingly balanced between reality and myth."[18]

Elaborating on the themes within the play Amitava Kumar writes in his review for The Guardian: "Akhtar doesn't hold back when it comes to exposing the gathering greed of the jihadists as the pair [Nick and Bashir] accumulate money, seems to humanize them. Look they're not dogmatic hotheads, the play seems to be saying. They're just like us. Which, depending on your viewpoint improves your opinion of the jihadists or lowers it of the whole of humanity."[19]

Robert Hofler at The Wrap says that "Akhtar has written a financial thriller that is every bit as arresting and nail-bit inducing as J.C. Chandor's 'Margin Call.'"[20] and further compares Akhtar to Shaw, Brecht, and Miller.[20]


  1. ^ a b Akhtar, Ayad (2015). The Invisible Hand. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316324533.
  2. ^ "Pulitzer Prize Winners 2013". Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "The Repertory of St. Louis". Invisible Hand - The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "The Invisible Hand | ACT". Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  5. ^ a b c d "NYTW / The Invisible Hand". NYTW. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  6. ^ a b c "The Invisible Hand | Tricycle". Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  7. ^ a b c "Obie Awards Announced". Obie Awards. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "AWARDS FOR 2014-2015". Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  9. ^ Akhtar, Ayad (August 6, 2014). "The Invisible Hand Press Release" (PDF). A Contemporary Theatre. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  10. ^ "A Contemporary Theatre to Stage West Coast Premiere of Ayad Akhtar's THE INVISIBLE HAND". August 6, 2014. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  11. ^ Cole, Emily (April 4, 2016). "Full Casting Announced for The Invisible Hand at the Tricycle". What's On Stage. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  12. ^ Editors, American Theatre (2016-05-10). "4 Theatre Artists to Receive Henry Hewes Design Awards". AMERICAN THEATRE. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  13. ^ a b c d e "2015 Nominations". Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  14. ^ "Lights Up on the Inaugural St. Louis Theater Awards". Alive Magazine Blog. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  15. ^ "American Theatre Critics Association - ATCA Home - Six finalists named for Steinberg/ATCA, nation's largest new play award". Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  16. ^ Isherwood, Charles (2014-12-08). "Ayad Akhtar's 'The Invisible Hand,' a Play About Terrorism". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  17. ^ "'The Invisible Hand': A taut thriller, starring terrorism and high finance". The Seattle Times. 2014-09-12. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  18. ^ 314-340-8346, BY CALVIN WILSON • >. "Play raises questions about US role in world affairs". Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  19. ^ Kumar, Amitava (2014-12-10). "Ayad Akhtar, master Muslim ironist". the Guardian. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  20. ^ a b "'The Invisible Hand' Theater Review: It's 'Margin Call' Set Inside a Pakistani Bunker". TheWrap. 2014-12-08. Retrieved 2016-05-17.

External links[edit]