Long Wharf Theatre
“Disgraced,” Ayad Akhtar’s 2012 Pulitizer-Prize-winning play, is currently receiving a searing production at Long Wharf Theatre. Set in a beautiful New York City apartment (scenic design by Lee Savage), with a superb five member cast who perform almost like prize-fighters, “Disgraced” is the kind of play in which many volatile topics are brought up and they land like hand grenades. Playwright Ayad Akhtar has a gift in presenting seemingly calm scenes and pushing just the right buttons to ignite an explosion. Embracing everything from racism to Anti-Semitism to assimilation, “Disgraced” at Long Wharf Theatre can seem, at times, to be too calculatingly controversial, but, overall, this play is a highly effective drama that is sure to inspire heated conversations long after the show has ended.
The play concerns the marriage of Amir, a Muslim attorney, and his wife Emily, a white American artist. Living in a gorgeous New York City apartment, this affluent couple seems at have everything they could want in order to live the high life. It is only when other characters and situations invade their lives that things begin to fall apart. Amir is played by the impressive Rajesh Bose and it is clear from the start that he has done the best job that he can to hide the fact that he is Muslim (it should be mentioned that Amir has changed his name and social security number, saying that he is from “India”). I would hate to spoil any of the many surprises that “Disgraced” has in spades, other than to say that the world of Amir and Emily is disrupted by both Amir’s nephew, Abe, and a married couple, Isaac and Jory, who come to Amir and Emily’s home for a seemingly friendly dinner. It is at this dinner that, literally, all hell breaks loose.
Running a tight ninety minutes, with no intermission, “Disgraced” is all about what is going on under the surface of what looks like the perfect life. Director Gordon Edelstein has done an excellent job with his five member cast and he keeps the action of the play taut and electric. In the leading role of Amir, Rajesh Bose gives a terrific, multi-layered performance and one is clearly able to see how his character changes as his life begins to unravel. Nicole Lowrance, as Amir’s artist wife Emily, shines in her role and she also brings a bit of humor to the play, though, she, too, has her own secrets to hide.
Similarly, the other three characters in the play are just as complex. As Amir’s nephew Abe, who appears to have assimilated into society to hide his ethnicity as much as his uncle has, Mohit Gautam is quite fine, and he undergoes his own character changes during the course of the play. Finally, there is the married couple, Isaac and Jory. Benim Foster gives a piercing performance as Isaac and he, more than anyone else onstage, seems to bring the most volatile subjects to the surface. This actor is perfectly matched by the sinuous Shirine Babb, as his lawyer wife Jory, though she, too, has crosses to bear. During the dinner between the two couples, the playwright throws just about every conceivable controversial topic into the mix, with often devastating results.
It is only here that I take playwright Ayad Akhtar to task: there are times that “Disgraced” seems to be a barrage of political and racial discussions meant to clearly incite the audience’s feelings. Indeed, there is no stone left unturned in this play. Still, Ayad Akhtar is a canny writer and “Disgraced” is quite a powerful and disturbing work and one that is sure to haunt a theatergoer for days afterwards. For those attending “Disgraced” at Long Wharf Theatre (and it is highly recommended that you do), prepare yourself for an unsettling and explosive evening of theatre, but one that is deeply gratifying, as well.
“Disgraced” continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through November 8, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.