by Angela Carroll
This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene.
Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winning Disgraced is a thoughtful character study about American Muslim identity. Driven by casual conversations, the play reveals earnest and unsettling disclosures about the perceptions and misconceptions we all maintain and project about those with differing world views. Compass Rose Theater offers a fresh production with direction from James Bunzli at a temporary location in Annapolis, Maryland.
Disgraced takes place in the Upper East Side Manhattan apartment of married couple Amir, a successful Pakistani lawyer (Park Juneja) and Emily, white visual artist (Katie Wicklund). Audiences are immediately made aware of their divergent political and philosophical beliefs. Emily is deeply inspired by classical Islamic visual culture. “It’s time we stopped paying lip service to Islam and Islamic art. We draw on the Greeks and the Romans, but Islam is part of who we are too!” she explains. She appropriates Islamic art aesthetics to bolster her career as a contemporary artist. In contrast Amir, who allows people to think he is from India rather than Pakistan, is vehemently critical of anything associated with Islam, a religion he considers “backwards”.
Amir struggles to come to terms with his relationship to Islam and fears that it could destroy his American dream to assimilate, attain wealth and not be viewed as a terrorist. His nephew Abe (Joe Mucciolo) counters Amir’s perspective with a keen pride in Islamic culture and religion, but ironically prefers his newly adopted western name over the Pakistani one he was born with. Abe begs Amir to provide legal counsel to a local imam who is accused of aiding terrorists. Initially Amir adamantly refuses, but eventually agrees to attend the trial as a neutral observer. That decision proves disastrous for Amir’s professional and personal life.
Still reeling and dazed from events following the trial, Amir wearily agrees to cohost a dinner party Emily is throwing. In the hopes of solidifying the acquisition of her paintings, Emily invites mutual friends over for dinner: Isaac, a respected Jewish art dealer (Sam Midwood) and his wife Jory (Aunye’ Boone), an African American lawyer and colleague of Amir. The dialogue between Isaac and Amir is especially revealing– both men maintain problematic and inconsistent conceptions about the religion, culture and traditions of the other.
In that scene, one of the highlights of the production, Juneja and Milwood deliver passionate performances. Isaac asks Amir if he was happy about the September 11 attacks. “Are you telling me you’ve never felt anything like that? An unexpected blush of pride?”, Amir asks. “Blush? No! I don’t feel anything like a blush.” Isaac retorts. “When you hear about Israel throwing its military weight around?” Amir comes back. Isaac, “I am critical of Israel. A lot of Jews are.” Amir, “And when you hear about Ahmadinejad going to the Mediterranean? How do you feel about that?” Isaac, “Outraged like anybody else.” Amir “Not everyone feels outraged.”
Compass Rose Theater presents a satisfying production of a timely work about America’s tenuous relationship to Islam. While the company transitions to a new venue, they are preforming in a space tucked inside the Power House Building adjacent to the Loews Hotel. It’s a little tricky to find. Arrive early to ensure a good seat.
Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. Director: James Bunzli. Featuring: Par Juneja, Katie Wicklund, Sam Midwood, Aunye’ Boone, Joe Mucciolo. Stage Manager: Caitlin Weller. Lighting Designer: Caitlin Weller. Production Supervisor/Properties: Mary Ruth Cowgill. Costume Designer: Katie Boothroyd. Produced by Compass Rose Theater.