When a show is so self-assured that the title lets you know what’s coming, that’s bold. Disgraced was playwright Ayad Akhtar’s first produced play; it secured the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting, and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play in 2015. There’s obviously something there, and Peace Mountain Theatre Company explores it to the max in this captivating production.
Corporate lawyer Amir Kapoor is living his best life, he’s at the top of his game, looks like a million bucks, and is on the brink of getting a mind-blowing promotion. Every once and a while there are subtle messages about how he has disregarded references to his Pakistani Muslim heritage. His wife, who is white, has made successful inroads as an artist extolling the beauty of Islamic mosaic patterns and the wisdom of Islamic tradition and culture. Amir displays a Hindu gift from someone who has mistaken him for a different nationality. No problem, he takes everything in stride in his suit attire that costs thousands. Life couldn’t be better. When his nephew, Hussein, asks him to help a Muslim friend who has been targeted for making suspicious remarks, he declines and tries to walk away, but the nephew, who himself is seeking the American Dream and wants to be known as Abe, is insistent. Drawing on family love and considering all of his largesse, how can Amir resist such a simple request? It turns out to be not so simple, and making even a mildly defensive statement about a Muslim later profiled as an imam who has questioned the government—well, there are consequences.
Omar LaTiri is a treasure as Amir. The other cast members—Emily Joyce, Amber Champ, Hamza Elnaggar, and David Dubov—work together wonderfully as an ensemble, but LaTiri’s performance is the motherlode of devasting inner turmoil. LaTiri’s Amir has compartmentalized his emotions so effectively that he’s hidden them from himself. As such, LaTiri’s layered performance when the well-mannered outward façade starts to crumble, indiscretions are revealed, and his cascading righteous anger bubbles up like noxious gas is mesmerizing. No amount of sophisticated glamour can camouflage the ugliness that erupts from out of nowhere. Amir’s slide into disgraceful territory of brutal physical retaliation comes from a deep and scary place. Yes, he’s understandably hurt to find out about his wife Emily’s past deception, but his anger has morphed from self-loathing to lashing out, the moment is impeccably directed, and the explosion of pent-up rage reminds us why we need to get out to live theater to witness!
Set design by John Decker features a raised platform at the foyer so entrances into the front room and dining space seem luxuriously sunken. A full four-seated dining area is comfortably set stage left and is an important feature for the emotional explosions that erupt. Also, the large sliding glass door window that opens out to New York’s Upper East Side skyline is a wonder. When wife Emily needed to break away to let things cool down, she stepped out to the “ledge” for her own quiet space.
Disgraced raises questions about the tensions of appreciating one’s cultural heritage without falling into a pit of assimilation. It’s a delicate continuum. Director Bill Hurlbut described how we’re all in different places, different worlds than when the show premiered in 2012 and even in 2016 at Arena. The year 2020 has ushered in a societal cultural reckoning along with the pandemic that has rocked our worlds. The intimacy (and COVID safety protocols for masks and seating in place in the Writer’s Center) and terrific acting bring the challenging realities of Disgraced front and center into our hearts and minds. Even if you’ve seen previous productions, this one is worth catching.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Disgraced runs through November 21, 2021, presented by Peace Mountain Theatre Company performing at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Chevy Chase, MD. Tickets ($26; $18 student and military) are available online.
The Writer’s Center COVID Safety Policy is here.
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Bill Hurlbut
Featuring: Omar LaTiri, Amber Champ, Hamza Elnaggar, David Dubov, Emily Joyce
Lighting Designers: Don Slater
Sound Designer: Matthew Datcher
Set Design: John Decker
Master Carpenter: Steve Leshin
Costume Design: Marie Bissex
Intimacy Choreographer: Helen Aberger
Fight Choreographer: David Dieudonné
Properties and Set Dressing Design: Anne Cary
Stage Manager: Douglas Maryott