By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review
Around the time Ayad Akhtar’s “The Who & the What” received its premiere at La Jolla Playhouse, it was announced that his earlier play, “Disgraced” would receive the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
This season, the Playhouse premiered Akhtar’s latest play, “Junk: the History of Debt,” and now, at last, San Diegans have the opportunity to see “Disgraced” in a fine, hard-hitting production that opened Oct. 26 at San Diego Repertory Theatre.
Michael Arabian, who does his own fight choreography, directs the swift, devastating and violent “Disgraced,” which is played in one 90-minute act upon John Iacovelli’s set, a tasteful Upper East Side apartment.
It is the home of an American born, Islam-raised mergers and acquisitions attorney, Amir Kapoor (Ronobir Lahri), and his American wife, Emily (Allison Spratt Pearce), an artist with an affinity for the Islamic art tradition that her hoped-for gallery dealer says takes it to a new level.
Amir, who has a penchant for $600 shirts (no starch, just an incredible thread count), has soft-pedaled his heritage to advance in his largely Jewish law firm. Played by M. Keala Milles Jr., Amir’s nephew Abe (real name Hussein) has also done the same, as if the playwright and his characters foresaw the coming of Donald Trump and the even earlier beginnings of Islamaphobia. Tellingly, the play is set in late summer 2011.
Not knowing for certain whether her recent paintings have been accepted into her art dealer Isaac’s (Richard Baird) prestigious show, Emily invites him and his African-American wife, Jory (Monique Gaffney), a colleague of Amir’s, to dinner.
None of these people are very likable and their marriages are frayed as well. They proceed to have at one another, as all manner of taboo matters are discussed. The upshot: Amir’s career is completely ruined, along with Emily’s chances for significant recognition. The evening culminates in gut-wrenching violence, the outcome of which is observed by Abe. There is one more chilling scene, quite impressively played by young Mr. Milles.
Telling the truth, Akhtar amazingly and subtly helps onlookers to understand the young Muslim’s conflicts, and, by extension, many of today’s problems.
If nothing else, Arabian’s production demonstrates why the play is worthy of a Pulitzer Prize and why Akhtar is among the nation’s most produced playwrights. His wit, insight and intelligence make “Disgraced” a most compelling, important and suspenseful work of art.
The Rep’s physical plant is still challenging due to the $3 million renovations still under way. Meanwhile, they are doing all humanly possible to accommodate patrons and make them comfortable.
— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenecriticism.blogspot.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.