In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote The New Colossus, which is engraved on a tablet within the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” Yet, after the world has been invited to join our “melting pot”, it is apparent that the invitation isn’t, equally sincere to all arriving. Ayad Akhtar‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony Award-nominated drama Disgraced, directed by Marcela Lorca, brings McCarter Theatre a story of the burden of being Muslim in America today. This is the opportunity to try to understand those who are different from us.
“One of the central axis points of the American experience is rupture from the old world and renewal of the self in the new one. For seven or eight generations, this notion is central to being American. We celebrate the renewal, we do not mourn the rupture. Disgraced is about the gap which is created by not mourning the rupture. Here is a character [Amir] who cannot celebrate renewal, and is caught in the process. It presents a series of contradictions. Those contradictions are the experience I want the audience to be confronted with.” – Ayad Akhtar
Disgraced starts off as a comedy. A well-educated married couple living in a posh New York City apartment seem to have a loving relationship. The main character, Amir (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh), is a U.S. born citizen whose parents immigrated from South Asia. He’s a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, and his white American wife, Emily (Caroline Kaplan), is a painter. The storyline is upbeat and comical until after Emily’s plea for Amir to do a favor for his nephew Abe (Adit Dileep). Soon after, all three lives change.
The couple invites Amir’s colleague, Jory (Austene Van), and her husband Isaac (Kevin Isola), who is a Whitney Museum curator, over for an elaborate dinner. Even though the protagonist is a first generation American, he has some deeply rooted attitudes, values, and beliefs from his parents that he is suppressing. We discover that it’s taxing for him to conceal his culture while adopting an American lifestyle, but he manages to do so until a conflict eventually causes a chasm between the old world and the new. Suddenly, decades of his true feelings erupt, which shocks his wife and friends. The conversation gets intense with the exchange of deplorable words, of which there is no recovery.
The set is gorgeous, which consists of a living room, kitchen, and balcony of a modern apartment in a luxury hi-rise building. During the transitions, our eyes are directed outside the windows where we see pedestrians walking by on the street. This was brilliantly executed through design and lighting. The sound enhances the theater experience, especially when the balcony door is opened to share the pulse of the city, and while building intense moments. The costumes are New York chic and add extra glamour to the stage.
The actors have challenging roles to fill, transitioning from comedy and drama to a highly charged and soul bearing scene. They deliver with power and conviction. Marcela Lorca doesn’t tiptoe around difficult scenes, directing the cast with the virtue of Akhtar’s bold and honest script. Disgraced is explosive!
Some profanity is lightly sprinkled throughout the play, and derogatory remarks are made towards the end. You might want to share your thoughts after seeing Disgraced, so there will be a post-show discussion immediately following each performance, where the audience and the general public are invited to attend. Also, cast members may participate in post-show discussions on October 23 and 27.
Disgraced plays on the Matthews stage until October 30 and has a run time of 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission. The intense subject matter and strong language may not be appropriate for those under 14. Tickets start as low as $25.00 and are on sale online, by phone at (609) 258-2787, or in person at the McCarter Theatre Box Office, located at 91 University Place in Princeton.