Ayad Akhtar’s 90-minute one-act Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is one of those rare theatrical works that can leave a reader rather immobile when in the midst of processing the combustible nature of it. In the background of your mind, you think to yourself, Is he sincerely going to go down that road and say publicly what you and everybody else might be thinking but are too polite to mention in casual conversation? And then, he does. Then, a volatile awkwardness ensues, and you have to take a breather to get a second wind for the next spitfire dosage.
The play involves lawyer Amir Kapoor, a disavowed Muslim raised American, who, for the sake of his career, glosses over and dismisses the traditions and values of his Muslim heritage. By doing so, he feels that that he will not be intimately connected with the primitive and zealous back woods fanaticism of extremists, despite that there are kernels of appreciation that he has for his roots. Yet, his wife, Emily, a burgeoning art celebrity who uses Muslim themed elements in her artwork values the Muslim tapestry, traditional and otherwise, that her husband, Amir, shuns. Before and during an important dinner party for Emily’s Jewish art dealer and agent named Isaac and his wife Jory who happens to be Amir’s lawyerly coworker, Amir and Emily discuss a controversal case which might involve religious discrimination of an iman, a Muslim holy figure who seems to wield some influence over Abe, Amir’s Americanized nephew. After being mentioned in a write-up in the prestigious New York Times as a possible unofficial supporter and or helper of the defendant in question, Amir begins to quake at how it might make him look if he’s associated with an iman who supposedly financially supported terrorist related groups. The charges, too, may be trumped-up and falsified because of politics, ignorance and cultural insensitivity, and this, too ignites Amir’s ire, which lies just beneath the surface. He is between a rock and a hard place. And when the flood gates open, they open wide indeed with an outpouring of venomous dialog that can churn the discomfort level to the extreme, especially so when Isaac and Amir begin to politely “converse.”
Disgraced is appropriately titled, because, by the end of the play, that is exactly what happens to all the characters. They become disgraced, though the disgrace factor varies for each one. Some carry more weight than others, and Amir seems to be the biggest loser in this jolting, vitriolic post 9-11 peep into the judgmental conflict between cultures, politics and ethnic groups. All five characters are changed in ways that they never thought they would be. New enlightenments are unpleasantly gleaned because of the teaspoon of vinegar that they must all be forced to drink. This was a great and surprising play that was very worthy of the Pulitzer Prize.
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