DISGRACED is an intelligent emotionally charged play that provokes a lot of thought and discussion.
Things are not what they seem in successful lawyer Amir Kapoor's household. When we first see him he is immaculately dressed in a coat, tie and one of his $600 shirts above the waist, but only in underwear below. There can be no better opening image in this play about divided personalities. Amir was born in America and claims his parents were born in India. The location of their birth is now Pakistan, but Amir's hatred of Islam is so strong that he won't acknowledge that. Emily, his blonde, white wife is an artist who is incorporating aspects of Islamic art into her work. She's looking for some link to a faith system but doesn't seem very interested in the one in which she was raised. When we first see them, she is painting a portrait of Amir in the style of Velasquez's famous portrait of a Moorish slave. What does this say about her opinion of her dark-skinned Asian husband and of their marriage? Amir's nephew has changed his name from Hussein Malik to Abe Jensen (Amir has also changed his name) but is loyal to his Islamic roots. Abe wants Amir to help free his Imam who has been accused of terrorism. When, at his wife's insistence, Amir becomes peripherally involved in the case and is quoted in The New York TIMES as being sympathetic to the Imam, all hell breaks loose. The pro-Israel Jewish partners at his law firm are furious (they already think he is "shifty" -- an ethnic stereotype if ever there was one). Though Amir was due to become partner they promote Jory, a Black woman, over him.
At a dinner from Hell, Jory and her partner Isaac, a Jewish curator who wants to exhibit Emily's work, become embroiled in an argument over Islam with Amir. During this increasingly heated debate, we see how divided Amir's feelings are -- hatred of Islam but pride at the victories of Islamic terrorists. By the end of the evening, Amir's life is shattered. His marriage is destroyed, his job is in peril, and his friendships ruined.
DISGRACED is an intense, ninety-minute play. There are some laughs along the way, but it is a powerful look at cultural confusion. In the final scene, while Joe is helping Amir pack, he says that their people have been "disgraced" and we see that this is to some extent true. No one -- not Joe's blonde wife, his Black colleague, his Jewish bosses or the Jewish rival for Emily's attention -- see Amir as fully human. Disgraced, Amir behaves disgracefully. We're not sure who he is at the end -- nor does he.
This is a provocative play. The production is well directed and superbly acted. In the pivotal role of Amir, Aasiv Mandvi gives a searing portrayal, moving from complacency to fury to calm bafflement. If you only know him from his funny stuff on THE DAILY SHOW, you will be amazed at what a good actor he is. The supporting cast is fine.
It has been a year of excellent plays that argue the key issues of our time -- RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN; DETROIT: and now DISGRACED. I hope they all have a future beyond the intimate theatres that have presented them. DISGRACED is at the 100 seat Claire Tow Theatre atop the Lincoln Center Theatres, a great space for a new play.
DISCRACED. Claire Tow Theatre, Lincoln Center Theatres. November 24, 2012.