NY Theater Review By Michall Jeffers
Provocative; brilliant; intense. Disgraced is all these things, and more. It raises more questions than it answers. What is the true essence of identity, prejudice, empathy? Ayed Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winning play is a double rainbow of complexity; it challenges our understanding of what we see, hear, and feel. Amir (Hari Dhillon) is Pakistani, but considers himself an assimilated American. He’s married to the lovely, intelligent Emily (Gretchen Mol), an artist who finds great meaning in Islamic art. He’s also close to his young nephew, Abe (Danny Ashok), who changed his name from Hussein. Emily and Amir throw a dinner party, there’s way too much drinking, and things get out of hand. Their guests are intertwined in their lives; Isaac (Josh Radnor) has the power to feature Emily’s work in an exhibit at the prestigious Whitney Museum, while Jory (Karen Pittman) is a lawyer in the same firm as Amir.
Director Kimberly Senior keeps the production tight; even in quieter moments, the tautness never lessons. The handsome Dhillon plays Amir as a coiled big cat; he paces, he seethes, he attacks. Mol is the perfect combination of sweetness and strength; she wins our hearts even if we find her life choices questionable. Radnor manages to avoid making Isaac a cliché of a Jew who’s got a hair trigger temper about all things Islamic. Pittman conveys the socially adept side of Jory, while conjuring up her tough side when needed. Ashok’s immaculate sneakers give way to Muslim accoutrements; he’s plausible on both sides of the cultural fence.
The action is set circa 2011, but the wounds of 9/11 are still raw. When Amir, who has denounced the Quran as barbaric, admits to feeling a little pride about Arabs who got the upper hand at last, it’s a downhill ride as Isaac vehemently protests. Things go from bad to worse when Amir finds out that not only has he been questioned about his ethnicity at work, but that he’s not the one advancing in the firm. He puts the blame squarely on a visit he paid to an Imam who’s in big trouble for allegedly giving money to terrorists; Emily and Abe/Hussein insisted he talk to the religious leader, but the newspapers played it up as much more.
There is violence in the play which well may disrupt the concentration of the audience. At times, it’s hard to tell who’s the “they” who have humiliated the Muslims. It’s distracting to hear the gasping and random applauding during sections of the ongoing dispute; however, this gives truth to the polarizing effect of presenting both sides of the argument in a persuasive manner.
I would be amazed if anyone is able to leave Disgraced without needing to discuss what has transpired. Even the title is ambiguous. But there is no doubt that this passionate production has gotten us thinking and talking again about what we experience in the theater.
Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th St., 212-239-6200 www.disgracedonbroadway.com
Director: Kimberly Senior
Author: Ayad Akhtar
Cast: Hari Dhillon (Amir), Gretchen Mol (Emily), Josh Radnor (Isaac), Danny Ashok (Abe) and Karen Pittman (Jory).
Tech: sets,John Lee Beatty; costumes; Jennifer von Mayrhauser; lighting; Kenneth Posner;sound, Jill BC Du Boff
*Photos: Joan Marcus (click photo to expand)