Powerful Drama, “Disgraced,” Is Contemporary Story That Seethes, Simmers Then Explodes

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has brought us another recent hit and Pulitzer Prize winner (2013) with “Disgraced” by Ayad Akhtar. Over the course of a year in this 90-minute masterpiece, the playwright wrings us through a series of emotions, highs and lows and some frank observations about race, religion and relationships in today’s fragile world.

Amir and Emily live in a high rise apartment in New York’s Upper East Side. Both are successful- he a businessman, she an artist. Although he won’t admit it, Amir has tried to shake off his Indian/Pakistani background and, quite frankly, has succeeded. But he is upset that his superiors have suddenly taken an interest in his background now that he is perhaps up for a promotion. Emily is successful and has a gallery owner who is quite interested in her work- most of it influenced by Muslim inspired art."Disgraced" by Ayad Akhtar directed by Seth Gordon presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis at The Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts of Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri on Feb 9, 2016.As a constant reminder of his ancestry, Amir’s nephew, Hussein, lives nearby and also has taken pains to keep his history in the past, adopting the name Abe. He asks his uncle to assist a friend of his who probably has some terrorist background. He declines but assures Abe that he will attend the trial. The result of the well-publicized trial is his company’s interest in a background check into his past.

Meanwhile the Jewish gallery owner, Isaac and his wife, Jory, a black woman who is also up for promotion in Amir’s firm bring their own troubles to the table. And that table includes a marvelous dinner sequence that implodes in shouting and hate mongering that leads to disaster on several levels. That’s as far as we can go on the premise without spoiler alerts, but the volatility is some of the most powerful and realistic we’ve seen on stage in some time.

John Pasha is a force to content with as Amir. His poise and manner makes him the focal point during most of the evening. As Emily, Leigh Williams is delightful. Her confidence is just as poised and you truly believe she can handle any situation. Fahim Hamid plays the disgruntled Abe with just the right touch of confusion and anger.

Jonathan C. Kaplan is Isaac and he manages to stand toe-to-toe with Amir when push comes to shove. And finally, Rachel Christopher is rock solid as Jory. She holds a lot of secrets as well but she is as strong willed as the rest of the folks. These diverse and alpha personalities make for great theatre when questions arise and subtle and not so subtle mud-slinging takes the forefront. The entire cast makes everything so believable and natural that you’re often taken aback, fearing you’re intruding on their personal lives.

Seth Gordon has directed this powerhouse with a masterful hand. He finds the peaks and valleys and is able to bring out the abundant amount of humor that is in the play as well as the viscousness and unexpected moments that dot this masterwork. The Kevin Depinet set design is a wonder to behold. It reeks of opulence and the New York skyline is dramatic and adds to the feeling of power and riches. Ann G. Wrightson’s lights also highlight the successful feel of the place and Dorothy Marshall Englis has crafted the perfect costume design to go along with the theme of the play.

“Disgraced” will not be an easy play for many to see. It brings up the current tenor in so many conversations and feelings in the world today and the depiction of savage outbursts through both dialogue and action may leave you weak-kneed. But this is important theatre at the highest level. You will not want to miss it if you are a fan of realistic drama with superb direction and outstanding performances. “Disgraced” plays at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through March 6th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

 

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