Disgraced is a 2012 play by novelist and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar. The play, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is centered on sociopolitical themes such as islamophobia and the self-identity of Muslim-American citizens. It focuses on a dinner party between four people with very different backgrounds. As discussion turns to politics and religion, the mood quickly becomes heated. Described as a “combustible powder keg of identity politics,” the play depicts racial and ethnic prejudices that “secretly persist in even the most progressive cultural circles.” It is also said to depict the challenge for upwardly mobile Muslim Americans in the post 9/11 America. Director Michael Arabian debuts his production at the San Diego Rep in October 2016.

Excerpt from The San Diego Tribune:

At the center of it all is Amir Kapoor (Ronobir Lahiri), a top New York lawyer whose level of success finds expression in his $600 dress shirts and the elegant penthouse he shares with his artist wife, Emily (Allison Spratt Pearce). (The place is designed to the nines by John Iacovelli.)

But there’s a deep irony (and growing source of division) at the heart of their relationship: While Amir has utterly rejected the Muslim identity of his South Asian family, calling himself a proud apostate, the WASP-y Emily embraces Islamic aesthetics and ideals in her painting.

Monique Gaffney, Ronobir Lahiri, Allison Spratt Pearce and Richard Baird (from left) in “Disgraced.” (Daren Scott)

The couple’s carefully constructed world begins to wobble on its axis when Amir, at the prodding of Emily and his own nephew, Abe (a devoted Muslim played by M. Keala Milles Jr.), appears at a court hearing for a jailed Muslim cleric.

Amir winds up being quoted in the New York Times, and is already beginning to face blowback at his predominantly Jewish law firm by the time the Kapoors sit down for a very consequential dinner party with Isaac, a Jewish curator who has championed Emily’s art, and Jory (Monique Gaffney), Isaac’s African-American wife and Amir’s work colleague.

Director Michael Arabian, previously at the Rep with “Red,” has a sure feel for calibrating the detonations to come, and his cast (which in some cases seemed a little tentative in early scenes on opening night) proves adept at tuning into the play’s intensity as it ratchets up toward the final act.

Occasionally, the startling words Akhtar puts in his characters’ mouths on the topics of religion and ethnicity can feel, if not forced, at least a little unlikely. But the playwright has a masterful way of weaving surprises into the dialogue and steering clear of cliche.

(Brian Gale’s lighting and Kevin Anthenill’s sound design inject an emotional charge, and Anastasia Pautova’s costumes are eye-catchingly savvy.)

Allison Spratt Pearce and Ronobir Lahiri in “Disgraced.” (Daren Scott )

Lahiri, a Broadway-seasoned actor who also happens to be a top sitar player and composer, finds affecting depths in the proud, brooding Amir; even in quiet moments you can sense the conflicts roiling within this man who has tried so hard to erase any trace of his heritage.

Pearce, a top San Diego-based actor with multiple Broadway credits, conveys a deep sense of warmth and open-mindedness as Emily, whose most prized painting subject is her husband.

Gaffney, another San Diego acting ace, is also in top form here as the self-assured Jory, who early on shares an easy kinship with Amir over their status as underdogs.

And two more accomplished locals — New Fortune Theatre co-founder Baird, as the provocative (and easily provoked) Isaac, and Milles, as the fervent but sympathetic Abe — bring sharply defined portrayals to this combustible mix.

And combust it does — in ways that may leave you thinking for days about unspoken (and unbidden) assumptions and prejudices just waiting for the right spark to ignite.

Twitter: @jimhebert


Additional articles:

The Times of San Diego
San Diego LGBT News
San Diego Reader