Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review of "Disgraced"

Parts of this review were adapted from my review of the Broadway production.

Disgraced, the Pulitzer Prize winning drama, makes its Connecticut debut in a disappointing production at the Long Wharf Theater.  The play’s words have an intense and searing effect upon the audience.  However, its execution by the four main protagonists and the director lacks the depth, fervor and emotional wallop needed for the show to succeed. 

The plot, featuring two interracial couples, and the lead character’s nephew, starts off simple enough in the high-end, Upper East Side apartment of corporate lawyer, Amir Karpol, of Pakistani descent; and his wife, Emily, an artist, who is white.  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, sometimes uncomfortable and forceful show.

Rajesh Bose, in the key role of Amir, should exude confidence, charisma, and control, which is critical for the show to work.  But the self-assurance and brashness is missing.  His battles with self-doubt and his self-loathing over his ethnic heritage are hollow.   Nicole Lowrance, 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 naiveté, aptly played by the actress, is what initially sets the drama into its downward spiral.  Benim Foster, who plays the self-absorbed art dealer, Isaac, is somewhat understated in his role.  His depiction prevents us from truly seeing what the character is precisely like--a sleazy opportunist full of seething rage and self-importance.  Shirine Babb, who plays Jory’s African-American wife, is not convincing as a high-powered corporate lawyer.  Instead, she is more down to earth and less charged.  Mohit Gautman, 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.

In order for Disgraced to work as a searing dramatic presentation the tension on stage needs to be slowly ratcheted up until it reaches its crashing crescendo.  Unfortunately, director Gordon Edelstein has not orchestrated the performances to reach this necessary level of unease and shock.  The delivery and actions of the actors in the 90-minute, intermission-less production, should keep the audience mesmerized and off-balance.  However, there are few sparks to ignite the production.

Disgraced, an unsuccessful mounting of what could have been an absorbing and captivating drama.  Playing at the Long Wharf Theater through November 8th.

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