If you like plays that tie all the loose ends into a nice, pretty bow, “Disgraced” isn’t for you.
Rather, Atad Akhtar’s play about a successful American man’s struggles with his Muslim and Pakistani heritage should send Swine Palace patrons out of LSU’s Shaver Theatre asking difficult questions. What are we to make of Islam in the age of terrorism? For non-Muslims, where are the lines between patronizing idealism, realistic caution and ignorant fear? How does the clash of cultures affect Muslims seeking assimilation in the Western world?
Femi Euba directs the 90-minute play, which takes place entirely in the New York apartment of corporate lawyer Amir Kapoor and his artist wife, Emily. Life is good. Already successful enough to favor $600 dress shirts, Amir is expecting to be made a partner in his firm, and Emily’s paintings are to be featured in an art exhibit.
The lead roles are well-cast. Zarif Kabier oozes confidence as the not-to-be-trifled-with lawyer who has rejected faith and replaced it with an American dream of upward mobility. Cara Reid projects energy as a woman committed both to Amir and to her opinions about Islam, even as they contradict those of a man who grew up in it.
Although she is painting Amir’s portrait as the play opens, her preference is for Islam-inspired geometric and calligraphic designs.
Their world views begin to collide when Amir’s nephew, Abe (played by Nitin Mane), begs his uncle to provide legal support to a Muslim cleric he insists has been unjustly accused of supporting terrorists. Emily, the white multiculturalist, urges Amir to help. Amir, fearing possible reactions of his bosses — all Jewish, by the way — is unenthusiastic.
But things really get interesting at dinner with Isaac (Shawn Halliday) and Jory (Nicole Powell). He is a Jewish art dealer considering Emily’s works; she is a black lawyer at Amir’s firm.
What starts as a celebratory evening among friends wanders off into all sorts of sensitive subjects: Islamophobia, culture appropriation, anti-Semitism, discrimination, cultural attitudes toward women. Just when the audience thinks “surely, it’s not going there,” it goes there.
Powell displays a wide range of emotions, from sunny joy to volcanic rage without grinding the gears as she shifted, and she stands out among the supporting actors.
The production work is also first-rate, including a nice detail: When Amir opens the sliding glass door to the balcony, street sounds whisper inside until it is closed.