Disgraced – January 31, 2018

Blistering drama takes the stage at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre with the North Bay premiere of Ayad Akhtar’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Disgraced. Akhtar has taken the “friends drink to excess and soon truths are revealed” theatrical trope (along the lines of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and dragged it into the 21st century.

Amir Kapoor (an intense Jared N. Wright) is a mergers and acquisitions attorney who’s changed his name and family history and abandoned his Muslim faith in his attempt to climb the corporate ladder. His wife Emily (Ilana Niernberger in the play’s most difficult role) is an artist whose work is heavily influenced by Islamic culture. She’s anxious to have her work displayed by her friend Isaac, played by Mike Schaeffer in an alternately amusing and disturbing performance. He’s a museum curator and the husband of Jory (played by an effective Jazmine Pierce), who’s a fellow ladder-climbing attorney at Amir’s firm.

All seems to be on track until Amir appears at a court hearing for an imam accused of raising money for a terrorist organization. He did so after repeated entreaties from his nephew (played solidly by Sonoma State University student Adrian Causor) and under pressure from his wife Emily. A short blurb in the New York Times about Amir is the catalyst for the action that ensues at a dinner party where Isaac plans to share some happy news.

Akhtar manages to address issues of assimilation, cultural appropriation, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, bigotry, racism, workplace inequity, misogyny, and religious and political fundamentalism in 90 compact minutes with no intermission. The action all takes place in Amir and Emily’s apartment with two short expositional scenes prefacing the play’s main event – the dinner party. It’s a party that begins well enough but, after a plethora of alcohol is ingested and ugly truths are revealed, ends in a shocking act of brutality.

While the dinner party setting may be stock, these characters are not. Director Phoebe Meyer and the cast take a no-holds-barred approach to the material and it pays off. Each character’s complexity is refreshing and provides a worthy challenge for the experienced cast. The company is excellent in their portrayals of individuals who struggle with their core beliefs and the realization that they may not be who they think they are or – more frighteningly – that they are.

That struggle was mirrored by the audience in post-show conversations. The best theatre starts a dialogue, not just about the show, but of the issues raised. This production should lead to a lot of discussions and maybe some heated – but hopefully civil – arguments.

There’s no disgrace in that.

‘Disgraced’ runs through February 18 at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre in the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8pm; Sunday matinees at 2pm.

For more information, go to leftedgetheatre.com.

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