‘Disgraced’ makes its Philly debut in fine fashion

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“Disgraced,” Ayad Akhtar’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning play is making its Philadelphia premiere in fine fashion at the Philadelphia Theatre Company through Nov. 8. Akhtar’s play introduces Pakistani-American lawyer Amir (Pej Vahdat) and his blonde-all American artist wife (Monette Magrath). One look at Set Designer Jason Simms beautiful and detailed New York condo set lets you know immediately that the couple is very well-to-do. The set is dominated by one of Emily’s paintings; she’s an artist influenced by Islamic imagery, while her husband, at the play’s start, seems to have abandoned any ties to his Muslim heritage and encourages nephew Abe (Anthony Mustafa Adair) to do the same. But when his wife pleads with him to help a Muslim religious leader she believes is wrongly being harassed, a chain of events begins which forces Amir to face his past and the heritage he has seemingly discarded.
“Disgraced” premiered at the American Theatre Company in Chicago in 2012. It had its New York premiere at Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3 in 2012 and its London premiere at the Bush Theatre in 2013. “Disgraced” was re-mounted on Broadway in the fall of 2014 with a cast lead by Gretchen Mol and Hari Dhillon. It received a 2015 Tony Award nomination for Best Play.
The plot tidily plays out by introducing Amir’s fellow lawyer Jory (Aimé Donna Kelly) who happens to be an African American woman married to Jewish art gallery owner Issac (Ben Graney). When they come to dinner, polite conversation turns into an explosive revelation of hidden prejudices and assumptions about religion and discoveries involving heritage. Director Mary B. Robinson neatly paces the intermissionless play, which moves from a slow, slightly trite opening to a fiery apex and sad finish.
Thom Weaver’s lighting design is lovely and Christopher Colucci’s sound design nicely matches the arc of the play, growing increasingly more Middle Eastern in tone as the scenes unfold.
“Disgraced” looks under our civilized veneer and materialistic way of life and uncovers unexamined prejudices and subconscious cultural heritages at work. “Disgraced” also looks at how American Muslims struggle to fit into a post 9-11 American society. In the play, art dealer Issac says of Emily’s geometric painting which vibrantly dominates the upscale living room, “the pattern is the doorway to freedom.” “Disgraced” takes audiences on an emotional roller coaster ride that illustrates how contemporary cultural conditioning can easily crumble to reveal that door.
IF YOU GO: Performances run Tuesdays through Sundays until Nov. 8. Tickets starting at $15 are available by calling the PTC Box Office at 215-985-0420 or visiting PhiladelphiaTheatreCompany.org.

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