By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Produced by ATC and
The Araca Group
At ATC, Chicago
Powerful, well-written drama works on many levels
American Theater Company (ATC) in a special arrangement with The Araca Group presents the world premiere of Disgraced by Ayda Akhtar. I can’t remember when I’ve witnessed a tighter, more succinctly written 80 minutes play than Akhtar has presented. Much is covered on several levels in this powerfully shocking drama.
Islamic culture continues to be a mystery that produces apprehension, mistrust, and fear in most Americans since 9-11. We live an unspoken distrust of anyone from the Muslim culture these days.
In Akhtar’s poignant drama, we see from within how a non-practicing Muslim-American lawyer, Amir Kapoor (Usman Ally), is living the fruits of the American Dream – wonderful high-paying job, wonderful wife, and exquisite condo (set design by Jack Magaw) in Manhattan. Amir is an aggressive corporate attorney who has achieved many of his life-long ambitions. He has it all until he falls victim to professional and personal betrayals. These lead to his betrayal of himself.
In only 80 minutes, playwright Ayad Akhtar tightly weaves not only a detailed characterization of Amir, the power attorney who can afford $600 dress shirts, but of a man in denial of his cultural upbringing. Amir is a sophisticated, American born citizen, whose family is from the Asian subcontinent. Except in name, Amir is the poster boy for success in American life.
In an early scene, Amir is visited by his nephew, Abe (Behzad Dabu) who begs Amir to help defend a Muslim cleric from federal anti-terror charges. Amir expounds how he is no longer a practicing Muslim and that he is not a public defender anymore, and that the cleric’s problem means nothing to him. But his actions at the court give fuel to his enemies.
Amir’s white American wife, Emily (Lee Stark) is a painter in the Islamic tradition. She tries to move Amir back to his childhood religion. The couple has a dinner engagement with Jory (Alana Arenass) – Amir’s attorney colleague and her husband, Isaac (Bemin Foster)- who runs an art gallery that is going to display Lee’s Muslim-inspired paintings.
During dinner and drinks the four debate and examine the beliefs from the Koran. Amir and Jory attack the militantly violent portions of the Koran while Issac and Emily defend the prayer-book. Drinks flow and Amir senses problems both at work an in his family life.
Arguments ensue with Issac, then with Jory ,and ultimately with Emily as Amir’s name, looks, abilities, persona, and beliefs come into question from all sides. His firms distrusts him and his personal relations deteriorate, leading to betrayals. It seems that Amir is trapped between his identity as a Muslim American and his personal identity as simply American. The collusion of these identities are dramatically played out in Disgraced.
Usman Ally’s strongly nuanced and highly-charged emotional performance as Amir anchors this wonderful, scary work. Disgraced speaks to the unspoken tensions when fear of a group or religion manifests itself in professional and personal relations. We empathize with Amir as he reacts to the actions of those around him. I’ll not say more so as not to spoil the plot that will enrage and shock you. Both the writing and the acting blend together to present a story that needs to be seen. Disgraced is a cautionary tale and an indictment of our latent fears of misunderstood cultures. The play forces us to re-examine our views of Muslim Americans. Theatre allows us to come together to explore such exlposive topics. This is an impressive drama, don’t miss it.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2012
For more info checkout the Disgraced page on theatreinchicago.com
At ATC, 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL, call 773-409-4125, www.atcweb.org, tickets $35 – $40, Thursdays * Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 80 minutes without an intermission, through February 26, 2012