Disgraced, the Pulitzer Prize winning drama making its Broadway debut, is a powerful and thought-provoking show. At times uncomfortable for audience members, there are so many themes and issues that playwright Ayad Akhtar has brought forth the production should offer a coffee and chat session after every performance for individuals that need to process what they have just seen.
The plot, featuring two interracial couples, and the lead protagonist’s nephew, starts off simple enough in the high-end, Upper East Side apartment of corporate lawyer, Amir Karpol, of Pakistani descent; and his white wife, Emily, an artist. Soon, Amir’s nephew, Abe, appears asking for help with a local Iman, detained for, allegedly, funneling money through his mosque to terrorists. Amir is unwilling, having sought to divest himself of his heritage and cultural upbringing to “fit in” and wants no part of any association with the Iman. Even though his wife and teenage relative strongly prod him to aid with the defense, he refuses.
Two weeks later we learn Amir did attend the Iman’s hearing, but only as an observer. However, his appearance, and a short mention on page A14 of The New York Times, sets into motion a series of events that forever changes his marriage as well as he and his wife’s relationship with their good friends, Isaac, a liberal Jewish gallery owner and his African-American wife, a co-worker of Amir. Playwright Akhtar has written a riveting drama that addresses such issues as the nature of Islam, American’s level of understanding and comfort level with the religion, support of Israel, racial prejudice and profiling, radicalization of our youth, and even the pretentiousness of the art world. While it sometimes seems Akhtar’s machinations are too contrived and pour out all at once, there is also a subtler method to his stratagem. Throughout the production he unveils pieces of information that, at the time, can seem trivial, but the playwright skillfully takes these ostensibly unimportant pieces and weaves them together to form a compelling and forceful show.
Hari Dhillon who plays Amir, adroitly fashions a character that, on the outside, exudes confidence, charisma, and control. Internally, he battles self-doubt, self-loathing, and his ethnic heritage to ruinous results. Gretchen Mol, as his wife, Emily, convincingly comes across as woman so focused on her own artistic endeavors she can’t see the reality of today’s world staring her in the face. Her naivete, aptly played by the actress, is what initially sets the drama into its downward spiral. Josh Radnor, who plays the self-absorbed art dealer, Isaac, is somewhat understated in his role. His character is more shaded and hard to pin down until you realize towards the end of the production he is a sleazy opportunist full of seething rage and self-importance. Karen Pittman, as his high-powered wife, Jory, is no-nonsense and driven. Her views are sharp and pointed. Danny Ashok, who plays the teenager, Abe (who changed his name from Hussein) transforms himself from a righteous young boy to a more radicalized individual over the six month span of the show. His impassioned rant, near the drama’s conclusion, over his treatment by the authorities gave me shivers and some insight into what it may be like for a young Moslem living in the United States.
Director Kimberly Senior keeps the action free flowing for the first half of the 90 minute, intermission-less production. However, when the sparks begin to fly in the second half, she keeps the action taut, tense, and focused on the words spewing from the actor’s lips, keeping the audience mesmerized and off-balance.
Disgraced, an absorbing and captivating drama worth a theater goers time and energy.