Review of Disgraced at the Guthrie Theater
Quote of the Day: You need to remember that when you leave your parents’ house and go out, the world is not a neutral place. Amir to his nephew Abe, a young adult searching for his identity and appearing a little too Muslim to a certain barista and the FBI, in the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar.
In the play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, prejudices, racial fears, and relationship conflicts ruin a dinner party like spilled milk, charred meat, and forgotten wine. It shows you what happens when you talk politics and religion at the dinner table, add too much alcohol, and speak the words that should never be spoken aloud, much less felt and believed. You have broken relationships to go along with the ruined dinner and lost appetites. No matter how far some people think they might have come to remain neutral and accept others as simply people, the truth is those deep seated prejudices and fears are still there.
Playwright Ayad Akhtar raises many questions and leaves the characters and audience to come up with their own answers. This is a hard play to watch, and even harder one to process. You want to see it as two couples trying their best to live, work, survive, and thrive in this messed up world. You want the young man Abe (Adit Dileep) to be strong in who he is, but not challenge prejudices so much that he gets into trouble. You want to see the good in people until they show us their worst.
Amir (Bhavesh Patel) is a lawyer, a husband, and a Pakistani-American, who changed his last name to sound a little less like a Muslim, and changed his lifestyle along with it. He married Emily (Caroline Kaplan), a white American woman, an artist, who seems to be attracted to him the way she is attracted to the art and cultural history of Islam. Her friend and curator of the art museum where she hopes to show her work is Isaac (Kevin Isola), a Jewish American, who does not seem to practice his religion, either, and is happy to eat the pork tenderloin that Emily is serving for their celebratory dinner. His wife Jory (Austene Van) is a lawyer in the same firm as Amir. When push comes to shove, the tenderloin is forgotten, the drinks flow too freely, and insults are slung like vicious whips.
Disgraced is a troubling play. If you go, know that some of the dialogue is painful to your ears and on your heart. I’d give a trigger warning to anyone who has a personal connection to the events of 9/11 and reactions to violence against women. The f-bomb is dropped occasionally, but the truly offensive language comes from the insults towards race, religion, gender and culture. The audience responded to many lines delivered with head nods, verbal mm-hmms and a few gasps. I believe the crowd applauded after Austene Van (as Jory) said, “Yes, I know about racial profiling.” Many of the hot button topics are brought up at this dinner table, including guns and gun violence, and who might be the next mass murderer.
On a lighter note, the focal point of this set is that large piece of art you can see in the above photo. It reminded me of Zen Tangles and Mosaics. I don’t know who did it, but it demonstrates the art they are discussing, the multiple layers of cultures and peoples and how everything and everyone is interwoven. The blue and yellow colors are calming and the movement and curve of the lines are both soothing to the nerves and stimulating to the imagination. The design reminds me of flowers floating on a lake. The feel of the piece is in sharp contrast to the mood of the play that gets darker with each drink and ugly line delivered.
Disgraced, written by Ayad Akhtar, directed by Marcela Lorca, is playing at the Guthrie Theater through August 28, 2016. The play runs about 95 minutes, with no intermission. A post-play discussion will be held after each performance, starting July 23. Unfortunately, they did not have a post-play discussion on opening/press night. However, my friend and I spent much of our drive back to Brainerd talking about the play and the real life situations it made us think about.
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Journaling Prompt: Has your meal ever been ruined by the table talk?