Time to purchase, beg, borrow or steal a ticket to Disgraced, in its final week at Northern Stage in White River Junction VT.
You will get to tuck yourself into an Upper East Side dinner party, where two interracial couples (lawyer, artist, lawyer, art impresario) engage in witty sophisticated banter about their professional lives and favorite local bakery. Amir (Amar Srivastava) has distanced himself from his Pakistani roots even as his Caucasian wife Emily (Olivia Gilliatt) urges him to take his nephew's (Kanwar Singh) calls about helping an imam accused of consorting with terrorists. Their dinner guests are Jory (Dan'yelle Williamson), an African-American colleague of Amir's at Big Law, and her Jewish husband Isaac (Sid Solomon). The wheels come off before the end of the fennel and anchovy salad course.
Disgraced is a 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner by playwright Ayad Akhtar, and one of the most produced plays in the United States. It is also one of the most controversial. As with many artistic creations that dare to touch the subjects of race, religion and politics, everyone has an opinion as to whether Akhtar has gotten it right or not. Has he written a play that enlightens, or is he mired (or worse, trafficking) in racial stereotypes with a dose of misogyny thrown in? What you could learn from the play is that your own assessment of Akhtar's work might have to do in part with your own life experiences. Google "Disgraced" and settle in to read the reviews and the Facebook posts. You will find that many, though not all, Muslims are concerned that the character of Amir portrays Muslim men unfairly. Most white, non-Muslim viewers think the play is fine, though some admit to little patience with Emily's "whitesplaining" Islam. Some women argue about Emily's upscale naivete and Amir's conduct toward her.
Much of the post-viewing dissection though centers rightfully on Amir. While this 80-minute production packs in any number of worthy themes, one that grabs you by the lapels and hangs on is this: what happens to people (and those around them) who decide (or have decided for them?) to forsake their roots and re-invent themselves into someone who "fits" the dominant culture? How does Amir cope with the seemingly barely-there conflict? Not very well, it turns out. One interpretation is that Amir, and many like him who endure the barbs of racism large and small and endless, suffer from the trauma brought on by external realities and inner guilt and shame. Throw in a few scotches, a couple of pieces of very bad news, and he explodes.
Little about the play itself is clear. The production, however, is unambiguously well-acted and beautifully directed. The characters ring true, the dialogue cuts like a just-honed razor. I seldom say this, but it's a piece to see again, or better yet, to grab the play's book, and settle in for a long, thoughtful read.
Photos by Rob Strong
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