Milwaukee Rep’s Explosive “Disgraced” Leaves Audiences Spellbound
Reviewed by: Matthew Perta
A good piece of theater should wake us up to our prejudices and fears, and put our world into sharper focus so we can understand our place in it and help us empathize with those who share it with us. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced, written by playwright Ayad Akhtar who was raised in Milwaukee, does just that in a provocative way with an explosive production now being performed by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Disgraced opens in the ultra-modern and elegant New York apartment of Amir Kapoor, an American-born and Muslim-raised lawyer and his beautiful Caucasian wife Emily, an artist whose creative endeavors are inspired by Islamic art. On the surface all looks fine and dandy – a beautiful apartment and a couple that’s obviously in love from interactions on stage I won’t describe here. But from an opening dialog with Emily we quickly learn that Amir, despite his successful legal career and being on the verge of making partner at his law firm, struggles to accept his Muslim heritage.
But the real fireworks are coming.
Disgraced serves up its audience an unforgettable crescendo in the form of a dinner party hosted by Amir and Emily. The couple’s guests are Jory, an African-American attorney and Amir’s colleague at his law firm, and Jory’s husband, Isaac, her Jewish husband and Emily’s art dealer. It’s over salad that the discussion – at first light and even humorous at times – turns shocking. Individual views on identity are revealed and prejudices come to the surface – Amir even admits he’d liked to see Israel “wiped out” and was proud of the horrific events that occurred on 9-11. We even learn why Amir failed to make partner at his firm – and a lot more of which I won’t say here because I don’t want to risk revealing too much of what becomes a twisted plot.
All five actors comprising the cast – Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Amir; Janie Brookshire as Emily, his wife; Austene Van as Jory, the attorney, Jason Babinsky as her husband, Issac and Imran Sheikh as Abe, Amir’s nephew – superbly capture complex characters living in an equally complex world. I was seated close to the stage so I could see firsthand the pain as well as the confusion in their facial expressions. Brilliant! The cast deservedly earned a standing ovation on opening night. Credit goes to director Marcela Lorca for coaxing gut-wrenching performances out of her actors that help us empathize with each one. Also, earning praise is set designer James Youmans, whose fashionable apartment set where Amir and Emily live serves as the perfect contrast to the explosive revelations that occur during the course of the play.
Disgraced is a slowly ticking time bomb that detonates with a surprising dramatic force that leaves its audience spellbound.
An interesting talking point about Disgraced is what its playwright, Ayad Akhtar recently told the Milwaukee media, that people are now talking to one another in public much like the characters do in the play, something nobody could have imagined at the time he wrote it.
Disgraced received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play of 2015. It was the most-produced play around the country during the 2015-16 theater season. The Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of Disgraced runs through Feb. 12 in the Quadracci Powerhouse, located at 108 E. Wells in downtown Milwaukee. For tickets to Disgraced visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com or call (414) 224-9490.