When a show is so sure of itself that the title lets you know what’s coming up, it’s daring. Disgraced was the first play produced by playwright Ayad Akhtar; it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 2013 Obie Prize for Dramatic Writing and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play in 2015. Obviously there’s something there, and the Peace Mountain Theater Company has it. explore to the max in this captivating production.
Business lawyer Amir Kapoor is living his best life, he is at the top of his game, looks like a million bucks and is about to get a mind-blowing promotion. Every now and then there are subtle messages about how he ignored references to his Pakistani Muslim heritage. His wife, who is white, has made successful inroads as an artist extolling the beauty of Islamic mosaic patterns and the wisdom of Islamic tradition and culture. Amir displays a Hindu gift from someone who mistook him for a different nationality. No problem, he takes it all in stride in his attire which costs thousands. Life couldn’t be better. When his nephew, Hussein, asks him to help a Muslim friend who has been targeted for making suspicious comments, he refuses and tries to walk away, but the nephew, who himself seeks the American dream and wants to be known under the name Abe, is insistent. Relying on family love and given all of his largesse, how can Amir resist such a simple request? Turns out it’s not that simple, and making even a mildly defensive statement about a Muslim later presented as an Imam who questioned the government – well, there are consequences.
Omar LaTiri is a treasure as Amir. The other cast members — Emily Joyce, Amber Champ, Hamza Elnaggar, and David Dubov — work wonderfully as a whole, but LaTiri’s performance is the common thread of a devastating inner turmoil. LaTiri’s Amir compartmentalized his emotions so effectively that he hid them from himself. As such, LaTiri’s layered performance as the well-raised exterior facade begins to crumble, indiscretions are revealed, and his just cascading anger boils like noxious gas is fascinating. No amount of sophisticated glamor can camouflage the ugliness that pops up out of nowhere. Amir’s slide into a shameful territory of brutal physical retaliation comes from a deep and frightening place. Yes, he’s understandably hurt to learn of his wife Emily’s past deception, but his anger has shifted from self-loathing to violence, the moment is impeccably directed, and the pent-up burst of rage reminds us of why we have to go out and live. the theater to testify!
John Decker’s set design includes a raised platform in the lobby so that the entrances to the front room and dining room appear luxuriously sunken. A full four-seat dining area is comfortably set to the left of the stage and is a big part of the emotional outbursts that erupt. Plus, the large sliding glass door that opens to the rooftops of New York’s Upper East Side is a marvel. When his wife Emily needed to get away to let things cool, she headed to the “ledge” for her own quiet space.
Disgraced raises questions about the tensions of appreciating one’s cultural heritage without falling into a pit of assimilation. It’s a delicate continuum. Director Bill Hurlbut described how we’re all in different places, different worlds than when the show premiered in 2012 and even in 2016 at the Arena. The year 2020 ushered in a societal cultural assessment with the pandemic that shook our worlds. The privacy (and COVID security protocols for masks and seats in place in Writer’s Center) and great play bring the harsh realities of Disgraced front and center in our hearts and minds. Even if you’ve seen previous productions, this one is worth seeing.
Duration: 90 minutes without intermission.
Disgraced runs through November 21, 2021, presented by Peace Mountain Theater Company at Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Chevy Chase, MD. Tickets ($ 26; $ 18 student and military) are available in line.
The Writer’s Center COVID security policy is here.
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Bill Hurlbut
With: Omar LaTiri, Amber Champ, Hamza Elnaggar, David Dubov, Emily Joyce
Lighting designers: Don Slater
Sound designer: Matthew Datcher
Scenography: John Decker
Master Carpenter: Steve Leshin
Costume design: Marie Bissex
Intimacy choreographer: Helen Aberger
Fight choreographer: David Dieudonné
Cover properties and design: Anne Cary
Stage manager: Douglas Maryott