Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar is a Obie winning, Tony nominated play centered around five very different characters. There is Amir who has renounced his muslim faith and has tried hard to assimilate into his Jewish law firm and into American society. The play takes place in 2012. Emily his wife, is a white blond rising artist hoping to have her work in a show. Contrary to her husband, Emily sees beauty in the muslim culture and has appropriated it into her paintings.
Abe Jensen – Amir’s nephew Hussein who has changed his identity because of racial profiling is upset that a local imam has been jailed and seeks Amir’s help. Amir reluctantly pays the man a visit in jail and ends up being quoted in the Times.
Back home, Amir and Emily prepare for an intimate dinner with friends.
The two are joined by Jory and Isaac. Jory, a black woman, is also a rising star in the law firm with Amir. Isaac, her Jewish husband, is the dealer putting together an art show at a prestigious gallery and Emily’s work will be in the show. The four have drinks and salad and conversation.
Many revelations appear as the conversation and the alcohol flow. Amir tries to explain the harshness and hatred of passages in the Quran. While Emily tries desperately to keep the conversation light. Isaac argues religion with Amir and Jory at first also tries to change the subject. Then she too delves deeper into the issues.
Jory and Amir leave to get some champagne to loosen the tension and without telling you any of the surprises of the play, all hell breaks loose as all four reunite are fighting with each other. An investigation of Amir’s past, a lost opportunity and a dalliance sets the four off.
But Amir, Amir especially fights with himself. The fight causes a break in the veneer and his mother’s voice comes back to him, causing him to expel a vicious punishment on those that disagree with him. This disappoints his wife, his nephew and ultimately himself. Amir is left disgraced. Disgraced in his effort to turn into someone else. Disgraced in the eyes of his friends, his wife and nephew. And one can’t help think his mother would not approve either.
This is a very important play. It’s also a very hard play to watch. You’re gripped by these four characters, especially by their truth. And their truth is brutal and on display.
In just one play, in just one living room, we see the following truth’s portrayed.
Amir has several truths that are all struggling inside of him. There is the truth of his strict orthodox muslim upbrining that sees white women has whores because they show so much skin. There is the truth that his muslim upbringing is part of him, a part he despises and wants to deny and destroy. And the truth that under intense scrutiny and pressure, he’s going to revert back to those muslim teachings – and not in a good way.
Emily’s truth is that as a privleged woman, she’s blind to the ugliness of religious fanaticism, blind to the struggle her husband is having and blind to the consequences of her actions. Emily gets a wake up call and sees a new truth.
Isaac’s truth is being the intellectual. Sure fanaticism is can lead to extremes and bloodshed, but religion doesn’t teach that, men do. His argument with Amir gets more heated as he feels Amir is not good enough for Emily.
And all of their truths are, well, true.
The play leaves the audience with their heads swirling as you try to reconcile each truth. How do you reconcile the beauty of a culture with the ugliness of fanaticism? How do you reconcile intellect and blind faith of a radical interpretation? How do you recognize when history is repeating itself, yet also recognize that this is the future? How do you reconcile turning your back on your faith only to have the most violent part never leave you?
I took three days before deciding to write about this play. It struck me deeply. I had trouble forming words in the moments afterwards, as I was meeting the actors. All of these characters are likable and despicable. All of them are true to their natures. And the play offers no answers to the above questions, you are left to reconcile that on your own.
I keep using the word truth, because that’s what this play is about. From all four points of view, this play shows you the ugly truth about a post 9/11 world.
I will be forever grateful for seeing this play, and allowing me some insight into four very different and disquieting views of the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Brought to Albuquerque by Fusion
Appearing at The Cell Theater
Through September 26, 2015
Special showing at the Lensic in Santa Fe
Directed by Jacqueline Reid
Amir – John San Nicolas
Emily – Celia Shaefer
Isaac – Gregory Wagrowski
Jory – Angela Littleton
Abe / Hussain – Samuel James Shoemaker-Trejo