No Easy Answers on Race, Religion and Politics in the Rep’s Superb Production, ‘Disgraced’
If we've learned anything in the past year, it's that the subjects of politics and religion are best left alone in the kitchen while dinner is served. However, in Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, politics and religion—and how they define our identities—become unwelcome courses that upset and inevitably change the lives of the two couples sitting at the table.
Akhtar, raised in Milwaukee, won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama for Disgraced, and it's easy to see why. The intelligent, sparring dialogue is sleek and smooth, yet rapid fire and incisive in the marks it leaves on its characters. And under the masterful direction and hawk-like vision of Marcela Lorca, Disgraced ranks as one of best Rep productions in recent memory.
Based on aspects of his own life, Akhtar focuses on the American Muslim experience through Amir Kapoor, a successful Manhattan lawyer who has left his identity (and name) behind to attain and leverage the American Dream. He prefers to be thought of as Indian. His U.S. born wife, Emily is an artist whose career is up and coming thanks to the attention of Jewish art curator, Isaac, whose African-American wife, Jory works with Amir.
Amir's reluctant agreement to attend a court hearing for a persecuted imam sets into motion the arc of the 80 minute play (no intermission). Amir must face his own past and somehow reconcile it with who he is, if he can. The clash of identities all comes together and falls apart at the dinner party with the four, as the succession of courses, with more and more alcohol, strips away the veneer of polite professional-speak into what lies beneath. The results are explosive and as difficult as it is fascinating to watch.
The ensemble of five talented actors fully inhabit and delineate their characters through and beyond the fiery climax. Maboud Ebrahimzadeh excels as Amir, delicately revealing increasing momentary flashes of insecurity amid his growing identity crisis while trying to remain confident. As his wife Emily, Janie Brookshire beautifully displays a range of emotions, filling the spaces in between the dialogue with a powerful silence. Jason Babinsky as Isaac and Austene Van as his wife Jory, play well off each other and provide excellent counterbalance to the other two. Imran Sheikh as Amir's nephew realistically evolves from American born back to discovering his roots.
Disgraced confronts us to look at our own identities and how we reconcile our past with our present. There are no easy answers. Just more questions waiting ahead for us.
Through Feb. 12 in the Quadracci Powerhouse, 108 E. Wells St. For tickets call 414-224-9490 or visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com.