Monday, November 10, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Disgraced


Thought-Provoking Play Probes Religious, Ethnic Ties We Think We Understand
By Lauren Yarger
“I’m not prejudiced.”
“All Muslims are….”

If either of those two statements sounds intriguing, Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning play Disgraced might just be the next Broadway ticket for you.

In the course of an evening, a Muslim, a Jew, an African-American and a WASP start talking religion. It gets messy.

Amir (Hari Dhillon) is a former Muslim – if there can be such a thing is one of the themes explored here – who has decided to worship his career as a mergers and acquisitions attorney in New York instead of the religion into which he was born. Besides, he just can’t embrace the archaic Quran and the religion it promotes. Accused of just “going through a phase” by his nephew, Abe (Danny Ashok), who has Americanized his name from Hussein, Amir replies that the phase is called “intelligence.”

If Amir feels a pull toward his Pakistani roots, it is because his WASPy American artist wife, Emily (Gretchen Mol Boardwalk Empire”) defends the religion and continually praises the beauty and wisdom she finds in her studies of Islamic art. Her latest works have been influenced by it and earn her a place in a show produced by Isaac (Josh Radnor How I Met Your Mother”). Emily influences her husband so much that he gives in when Abe and she beg him to help an imprisoned imam accused of having terrorist ties. Appearing to support the mosque leader has unpleasant professional consequences for Amir, however.

When Isaac and his African-American wife, Jory (Karen Pittman), who is an attorney vying for the same partnership at Amir’s mostly Jewish law firm, come to dinner at Amir and Emily’s swank Upper East Side apartment (nicely appointed by Designer John Lee Beatty), Amir has a few too many and all hell breaks loose as the conversation goes from “all religions have idiosyncrasies” to a hate-filled round of “your religion is bad.”

Turns out Amir isn’t as removed from his religious upbringing as he thinks. He certainly has some opinions that offend his Jewish and African-American guests (and us) like thinking that blowing Israel off the map is a good idea and feeling “tribal” pride over the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Later, Emily and Jory both tragically find that their husbands’ views about how to treat their wives aren’t what they thought they were either.

It’s a disturbing play on many levels, made so by unspoken truths which eventually are voiced. It is intelligent and witty (Radnor in particular delivers many of the play’s humorous lines with expert timing). We don’t want to have to talk about these things, let alone discuss them over dinner with friends, but the characters (all excellently portrayed) don’t give us any choice. 

There is no escape (there’s no intermission) and we are forced to explore some of the deep-rooted thoughts we have about religion. We also have to face the fact that the ugliness on stage could show up at our next dinner party too if we and our guests were to serve up honest opinions about religion and its place in today’s world.

Akhtar gets points for being able to bring so much out into the open in just 85 minutes. It’s well written and it makes you think. The awarding of the Pulitzer, however, seems a bit overdone for the first stage play by the actor and author of the novel “American Dervish.” Using liquor as a plot device to unleash the rage within Amir, for example, and the convenience of an affair between two of the characters all seems a bit trite.

The Pulitzer isn’t the only award Disgraced has received, however, so what do I know? Previous productions in Chicago and Off-Broadway, both also helmed by Director Kimberly Senior, received Jefferson and Obie awards.

Disgraced plays at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.  http://www.disgracedonbroadway.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Violence

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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