Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to a new label for your favorite (well, at least mine) type of theatre, the “theatre of argument.” It’s pretty catchy, no? I can’t take credit for it. I was listening to NPR recently while stuck in traffic and that phrase was used to categorize the 2013 Pulitzer Prize wining play, Disgraced, now on stage at the Mark Taper Forum. I can’t come up with anything better. NPR nailed it.
Ayah Akhtar is a playwright, novelist, and screenwriter after my own heart, who could have written Disgraced yesterday, but, in fact, wrote it in 2012, such is its relevance to today. It’s defeating to see how little we’ve figured out about dealing with Islamophobia and bringing Muslim-Americans into the fold. Akhtar has put together a humdinger of a play, with quite a cast of characters, leaving no audience member room to be safe and smug. Every member of the central event, an upscale New York dinner party, has their flaws readily on display. I’m guessing every theatregoer in attendance will change who they identify as the “good guy” and “bad guy” more than once in the alcohol infused meltdown.
There’s Amir (Hari Dhillon, who is from the original Broadway cast), the overpowering lawyer of Pakistani descent, hosting the party with his lovely liberal, blonde artist wife, Emily (Emily Swallow). They’ve invited a couple comprised of a Jewish art curator, Isaac (J. Anthony Crane), who is entertaining the idea of including Emily’s Islamic inspired paintings in his next show, along with his African-American wife, Jory (Karen Pittman – another original from the Broadway show), who is a colleague of Amir’s at their law firm.
Amir is agitated before the party even begins, as he was wrongly reported by the NY Times as being a part of the defense team for a man charged with aiding terrorists. Amir, being secular and anti-Muslim, anti-Koran, anti-all-sorts-of-stuff, attended a day of the trial as a favor to his nephew, Abe (Behzad Dabu), and at the pleading of his wife. Abe, who changed his name from Hussain to fit in better in America, happens to be a more traditional Pakistani Muslim, and felt the man was wrongly accused. Amir, who lead his law firm to believe his parents were born in India, has great concerns for how this might impact his chances of becoming a partner in the predominately Jewish law firm.
So the stage was set for all hell to break loose at the party, and it most certainly did. Talk escalating to arguments of religion, identity, terrorism were had. The State of Israel and even the N-word were brought out in the heat of the many, many battles fought on this evening, which ended in explosion. No person or topic safe, no person right, and no person totally wrong. No wonder it won the Pulitzer.
There’s so much more. Honestly, I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s 90 minutes that you won’t soon forget, and will want to talk about. So, bring a pal – the right pal. The playwright said it well, “What art can do, is change the way we see things individually. I aspired to accomplish with this structure, a kind of shattering of the audience, after which they have to find some way to put themselves together.” Mr. Akhtar, in cahoots with director Kimberly Senior, who has been along for the journey since its beginning stages in Chicago, earns an A+ for the shattering portrayal of the evening. If you believe you’ve thought all the tough topics through, and especially then, go see this show.
The Taper is the right venue for Disgraced. The production serves the show well (set design: John Lee Beatty, lighting design: Christine A. Binder) and the cast is superb. Top that off with a provocative, well-written story and concise direction, and you’ve got yourself something special. So what? Does it pass the, “So what?” I always ask. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Go see for yourself.
Mark Taper Forum
135 N. Grand Ave
2:30pm and 8 pm Saturdays
1pm and 6:30 pm Sundays
Thru July 17
$25 to $85 (and on discount sites)
(213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org