Feb 5, 2018
by Alexa Chipman
Ayad Akhtar’s chilling play ‘Disgraced’ explores the cultural identity of Muslim Americans struggling to belong in a society that inherently views them with suspicion. A diverse group of characters consider the multi-faceted issue, from an eager young man who believes in the Koran’s wisdom to a Caucasian artist accused of orientalism because she is drawing inspiration from Islamic tiling traditions in her paintings.
Emotional rhythms resonate throughout the play with the skill of a symphony, in tense moments of silence punctuated by impactful and shocking conflict. Akhtar’s work is intelligent and thought-provoking without being stuffy, his characters are filled with nuanced proportions of darkness and light, constantly shifting, forcing the audience to re-evaluate assumptions as the story unfolds through direction by Phoebe Moyer.
Naïvely enthusiastic, Emily (Ilana Niernberger) finds her husband’s religious background a fascinating study, propounding that the Renaissance overemphasized Classical traditions in art, causing a “cult of the personal ego” rather than finding strength through interconnectivity. Her personal quest has become educating artists on the influences of Islamic creativity in art history. Niernberger glows with the conviction Emily feels, in a captivating performance.
Amir (Jared N. Wright) has concentrated on fitting in—changing his name, fudging his origins by claiming to be from India, rather than Pakistan, carefully dressing in the latest designer suits, working overtime without being asked, and vehemently an apostate. His efforts have paid off with a lucrative position in a prominent corporate law firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions. His perfectly formed career falls apart due to a series of decisions that seem minor at the time, sending him on a slippery slope toward becoming the sort of person he used to despise.
In a somber metamorphosis, Abe (Adrian Causor) appears to be a gangly, good-hearted young person, awkwardly asking his uncle Amir for help, until the weight of society’s censure transforms him. Jory (Jazmine Pierce) and Isaac (Mike Schaeffer) arrive for a doomed dinner party that rapidly unravels, genuinely shocked at what is unfolding.
Argo Thompson’s tasteful set design recreates a spacious apartment in New York, with elegant furnishings, neutral walls, and a sparkling whisky set; he also provides the music-driven soundscape. Lighting design from April George features dramatically during transitions, hovering over Amir’s anguish. Sandra Ish’s costumes maintain a clear passage of time, keeping the plot moving and adding an amusing quality to the opening scene.
‘Disgraced’ is not a comfortable evening; it lingers in the psyche, posing challenging questions. Is Amir right, insisting that clinging to an ancient text for answers causes a drift into believing that recreating a misogynistic, violent past is a better option than improving the present? Or is Emily’s worldview of beauty and a return to the sacred a proper path toward a peaceful future? Left Edge Theatre’s provoking, politically relevant commentary is a concise, gripping story with a talented cast of local actors in this Sonoma County premiere.
Photos from Argo Thompson
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