Also on my recent drama kick, I listened to Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. This play won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, so in trying to keep up with a bit of theatre, I stuck it on my list. I had kinda stalled out on listening to The Bone Season (which I’m still listening to because it’s good, it’s just a downer), so I picked this up to cleanse my palate.
Palate-cleansing is probably not the best use for this play. This 90 minute (really more like 98) play is meant to be performed in a single act, but really, the sauce is the third scene. Amir is an American-born, Muslim-raised lawyer who works for a high-powered law firm in New York. Emily is his artist wife who is obsessed with Islamic culture for her work. Amir is uncomfortable with this because he has avoided his religion for a long time due to the negative connotations it would have for his career. Amir’s nephew Abe shows up one day to ask him to be at the trial for an imam who is being tried for what Abe claims is a trumped-up charge. Amir goes to the trial due to Emily’s urging, but this ultimately has quite the negative effect on his career consequences.
Cut to scene 3: the dinner party. The most awkward dinner party ever. The kind where you just want to hide beneath the rug before the entree ever makes it out of the kitchen. The party combines Amir, the Muslim lawyer who is both ashamed and kinda proud of his Islamic roots, his white wife Emily who loves Islamic culture and art with Jory, a Jewish art collector for a museum displaying Emily’s work (that slept with Emily in London) and his African-American wife who works with Amir. Lubed well with alcohol, their conversation ranges over so many hot button issues, it can be hard to keep track at times. Suffice to say, the conflict of culture comes to a violent head, and nobody ends up with a happy ending.
The play works incredibly well, even if the pacing seems a little weird. The first two scenes pass incredibly quickly (about 15 minutes) whereas the dinner party lasts about 50 minutes. The final scene is more of a denouement where you see that everybody has received their just deserts, and that with race and ethnicity in America, the problems are intractable. Also, Asif Mandvi played Amir in the production that was captured for this recording, and he turns in a stellar performance.
I think that the reason Disgraced works as well as it does is that it forces you to consider everyone’s perspective, no matter how instinctively wrong that perspective may feel. Amir is ashamed of his Islamic heritage in the first two scenes, and so I ended up feeling like he needed to embrace and not shy away from his heritage. But in Scene 3, he learns that that’s the reason he’s not making partner at the law firm, and his dinner companions are shocked when he finds some of the attitudes coming from Arab extremists understandable and partially relatable. It puts into start relief the idea that when it comes to cultures outside of the mainstream of America, it seems that many want to be accepting, but only of the quirky, fun parts. When things start to get dark and hard, the other side needs to shut up and get in line. In Disgraced, Amir proves unable to do that, and he suffers the consequences.
JMF Rating: 7.5/10
‘Til next time,