The Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced by Ayad Aktar is primarily a play of Shavian dialectic, and it is in those debates, discussions and monologues that it is strongest. The topic is the limits of assimilation when your root culture is the one of which the Western world is most wary. The central character, though not a practicing Muslim, is originally of that world; though now Amir (Hari Dhillon) is a successful, high Octane lawyer at a big firm. He watches his on-the-job behavior and connections very carefully, though; he must daily maintain his distance from the subculture of terrorism for which his face could easily become a symbol. And he’s married to an upwardly mobile white woman (of course) named Emily (why not) (Gretchen Mol) who makes her living as an artist, and is increasingly influenced by design traditions of the ancient Muslim world. Add his associate at the law firm, African American Jory (Karen Pittman), and Emily’s, nerdy Jewish intellectual art dealer Abe (Josh Radnor), further season the stew with Jory and Abe being married…and there you are: all the “food groups” for the subject covered.
Except for one. Amir’s younger nephew Abe (Danny Ashok) who has not eschewed his culture entirely, and finds himself seeking a criminal lawyer to represent a Muslim spiritual leader. Very reluctantly, and only at the urging of his wife, Amir agrees to take the case.
And that’s the trigger for debate—and argument.
And as long as we stay with debate and argument, the play is interesting; it puts some age-old topics through new, contemporary filters and potentially presents the viewer with new things to think about and consider. But in ways I can’t reveal, lest I enter the land of spoilers, the playwright has felt the need to contrive domestic drama where it isn’t entirely necessary, and that’s when it jumps the rails; because the turmoil of that actually pulls focus from the central issue. I have to assume that Mr. Akhtar means for it to dramatize the issue by taking it to a hot point—but to me it seemed to dilute the proceedings, for leaving certain causal connections unexamined, and delivering an endgame denouement that doesn’t seem as much motivated as managed.
Still: the performances are excellent under Kimberly Senior’s direction, and the audience engaged. Plays have been Pulitzer’d on far less…
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