Despite someone’s ideals and best intentions, the remnants of his or her deeply ingrained cultural upbringing may surface during times of stress. This is clear in Disgraced, a powerful play by Ayad Akhtar, now at Capital Stage, under the direction of Michael Stevenson. Akhtar’s work won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
This 90-minute one-act play features four scenes, with the production’s most pivotal one taking place at a dinner party where tempers grow hot and life-changing revelations are made.
Amir Kapoor (Adam El-Sharkawi) is a successful Pakistani-American lawyer, climbing the corporate ladder and expecting to be made partner very soon. He has rejected Islam and all that the Quran teaches. El-Sharkawi plays Amir with barely concealed rage from the beginning, so the actions later in the evening come as no surprise.
His wife, Emily (Jennifer LeBlanc), is an up-and-coming artist whose work is finally starting to earn recognition. She takes inspiration from Islamic imagery and is much more intensely passionate about Islam than her husband. LeBlanc gives an almost luminous performance, calmly passionate and fiercely loyal to her husband.
Benjamin T. Ismail is riveting and powerful as Abe, Amir’s young nephew, filled with zeal for Islam and angry with the treatment he and his family have received.
Isaac (Michael Patrick Wiles) is a Jewish art dealer interested in Emily’s paintings. His wife Jory (Atim Udoffia) is an African-American colleague of Amir’s.
Through the course of the evening, we see how easy it is for friendly conversation to become heated and angry when identity politics takes over. The play exposes racial and ethnic prejudices that persist just below the surface of the everyday conversation. Ugliness comes out and ultimately everyone suffers from reproach and disrespect.