|Written by||Ayad Akhtar|
|Date premiered||January 2012|
|Place premiered||American Theater Company, Chicago, Illinois, USA|
|Subject||Pakistani Muslim heritage|
Disgraced is a 2012 play by novelist and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar. It premiered in Chicago and has had Off-Broadway and Off West End engagements. The play, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, will open on Broadway at the Lyceum Theater, with previews beginning September 27, 2014. Disgraced has also been recognized with a 2012 Joseph Jefferson Award for New Work – Play or Musical and a 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting. It is Akhtar's first stage play.
The play is centered on sociopolitical themes such as Islamophobia and the self-identity of Muslim-American citizens. It focuses on a dinner party between four people with very different backgrounds. As discussion turns to politics and religion, and the mood quickly becomes heated. Described as a "combustible powder keg of identity politics," the play depicts racial and ethnic prejudices that "secretly persist in even the most progressive cultural circles." It is also said to depict the challenge for upwardly mobile Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 America. Productions have included performances by Aasif Mandvi and Erik Jensen.
In the 90-minute, one-act play, lawyer Amir Kapoor and his wife Emily host an Upper East Side dinner. Amir is an American-born, Muslim-raised Manhattan mergers and acquisitions lawyer, while Emily is an up-and-coming artist who focuses on Islamic themes in her art. Amir has cast aside his Muslim heritage for the sake of his career, but is at times drawn toward it nonetheless. Emily, who has an affinity for Islamic artistic traditions, serves as his muse and an influence on his islamic connection. Prior to the dinner, Amir, who is on the partner track, becomes involved in a controversial case. Amir's assimilated nephew, Abe (born Hussein Malik), has concerns regarding the propriety of the arrest of a local imam who is imprisoned on charges that may be trumped-up of financing terrorist-supporting groups, leading him to question whether it is religious persecution. Emily encourages the reluctant Amir to appear in court in support of the imam, in an unofficial capacity that gets mentioned in The New York Times. The case becomes dinner conversation when he hosts Jory, a colleague from work, and her husband, Isaac, who is Emily's Jewish art dealer. In all, the dinner table assembly includes an ex-Muslim, an African-American, a Jew and a WASP dining over the topic of religious faith. The conversation touches upon "Islamic and Judaic tradition, the Quran and the Talmud, racial profiling and September 11 and the Taliban and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Benjamin Netanyahu" as tensions mount.
On November 2, 2011, the Chicago cast was announced. It included Usman Ally, Alana Arenas and Behzad Dabu. Ally played Amir, Arenas played Jory, Dabu played Abe, Benim Foster played Isaac and Lee Stark played Emily, starting with previews on January 27, 2012, and then the official debut on January 30. The Chicago production creative team included fight choreographer David Woolley, set designer Jack Magaw, lighting designer Christine Binder, costume designer Janice Pytel, prop designer Nick Heggestad, sound designer Kevin O’Donnell and production stage manager Katie Klemme.
On July 26, 2012, the Off-Broadway cast was announced as Aasif Mandvi, Heidi Armbruster, Adam Dannheisser, Omar Maskati and Karen Pittman. At the time, Mandvi was a correspondent for Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Other creative team members were sets designer Lauren Helpern, costume designer Dane Laffrey, lighting designer Tyler Micoleau and sound designer Jill BC DuBoff. The show began previews with Dannheisser on October 7, but Erik Jensen replaced him on October 10 after an illness with opening night scheduled for October 22. It was directed both at the American Theater Company in Chicago and at LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater in New York by Kimberly Senior, who is also set to direct its Broadway run in 2014. The New York production opened at the Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center in New York on October 22, 2012, with the following cast: Heidi Armbruster as Emily, Erik Jensen as Isaac, Aasif Mandvi as Amir, Omar Maskati as Abe, and Karen Pittman as Jory. The Off West End cast, which was directed by Nadia Fall, consisted of Danny Ashok, Kirsty Bushell, Hari Dhillon, Sara Powell and Nigel Whitmey.
Akhtar is a first generation Pakistani-American born in New York City and raised in Milwaukee. He had previously written and starred in the 2005 film The War Within, in which he portrayed a Pakistani engineering student who became a terrorist. He has studied at Brown University and Columbia University. He had also written the 2012 novel American Dervish, which studies "the Muslim religious experience in America". The son of two foreign-born doctors, he had spent a decade exploring dual identity before writing this play. In order to write this play, Akhtar decided to write from his own experiences. He stated that at a metaphorical level to write this play he had to "turn and look over my shoulder at what I was running away from. And at that moment there was an explosion of creativity."
Disgraced was originally scheduled at the American Theater Company in Chicago, Illinois, to run February 3 — March 4, 2012, with an official debut of February 6. Eventually the run was moved forward one week to January 27 — February 26, 2012, with an official January 30 debut. On February 21, its run was extended in Chicago until Mar 11, 2012.
It made its New York debut of its Off-Broadway run at LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater with an October 22, 2012, premiere and was scheduled to run until November 18 before being extended until December 2. Hurricane Sandy caused the cancellation of the October 28 and 29 evening performances but not the October 28 matinee. On November 1, it was extended again until December 23.
On February 6, 2013, the London premiere of the play was announced as an Off West End opening at the Bush Theatre, beginning in May 2013 under the direction of Nadia Fall. Its previews were scheduled to begin on May 17 before opening on May 22 and running until June 15. On March 15, Disgraced was extended until June 22. The play opened as scheduled on May 22. That July, the producer Matthew Rego announced that the show was being considered for a Broadway run during the 2013–14 season. On June 10, 2014, was announced to have a Broadway run starting on October 23, following previews beginning September 27 at the Lyceum Theatre.
Charles Isherwood of The New York Times, who saw the Off-Broadway production in 2012, said it was "a continuously engaging, vitally engaged play" that "bristles with wit and intelligence" and "puts contemporary attitudes toward religion under a microscope, revealing how tenuous self-image can be for people born into one way of being who have embraced another." Isherwood selected the play as one of his year-end Ten Best Plays of 2012. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter also selected it as among his Ten Best in New York Theater 2012, writing that Akhtar "staked a claim as one of the boldest voices to appear on the playwriting scene in recent years with this stinging swipe at the fallacy of the post-racial nation."
Of the Chicago production at American Theater company, Chicago Tribune theatre critic Chris Jones praised the show as "intensely arresting." Time Out Chicago's Kris Vire called the play a "a compact, stunning gut punch addressing the cultural affinities some of us are allowed to escape and those we aren't." However, Chicago Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss noted that the plays five characters were all "identity-warped", and the show was a "minefield... that feels all too deliberately booby-trapped by the playwright." The play won the Jeff Award—honoring excellence in Chicago Theater—for Best New Play in Chicago 2012.
Entertainment Weekly critic Thom Geier suggested that the ending was underdeveloped, but that the play was well-executed: "Akhtar packs a lot into his scenes, in terms of both coincidence-heavy personal drama and talky disquisitions on religion and politics, but he usually manages to pull back from the edge of too-muchness. There is an admirable restraint to director Kimberly Senior's well-paced scenes. Mandvi, best known for his comedy, has a surprisingly commanding stage presence and captures the full range of his character's internal conflicts."
National Public Radio describes the play thematically as one that "tackles Islamophobia and questions of Muslim-American identity". Isherwood noted: "As two couples exchange observations about faith and politics in the modern world, the intellectual thickets they find themselves in become increasingly tangled." More specifically he said, it is a play "about thorny questions of identity and religion in the contemporary world, with an accent on the incendiary topic of how radical Islam and the terrorism it inspires have affected the public discourse." Kapoor has "rejected his Muslim upbringing (and even his surname) to better assimilate into his law firm, but he still feels the occasional tug of Islam". Geier wrote: "Disgraced offers an engaging snapshot of the challenge for upwardly mobile Islamic Americans in the post-9/11 age." According to The Guardian 's Stephen Moss, the play comes to a head as the protagonist "tries to come to terms with his multiple identity – American v Asian, Muslim v secularist, passive observer of injustice v activist". Although Amir has an affinity for $600 shirts with obscenely high thread counts, his home dinner party is set in his apartment which is "spare [sic] and tasteful with subtle flourishes of the Orient".
During interviews following the Pulitzer announcement, Akhtar said that the play's title has both a literal and a metaphorical meaning. Literally, Amir plays out his disgrace in almost real time before the audience. Metaphorically, Akhtar says "There are ways that the colonial history of the West is still playing out in the Muslim world. The events that comprise that history — a disgrace of native peoples, as it were — is still very much a part of our contemporary moment."
Awards and nominations
The Chicago production received four Joseph Jefferson Awards nominations for the August 1, 2011, and July 31, 2012, theatrical productions season on August 21. Disgraced was recognized as the Best New Work – Play or Musical on October 15, 2012.
In its description of the play, the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama committee described it as "a moving play that depicts a successful corporate lawyer painfully forced to consider why he has for so long camouflaged his Pakistani Muslim heritage." The Pulitzer jury was headed by The Washington Post's theater critic Peter Marks. Playwright Donald Margulies, Princeton University professor Jill Dolan, critic John Fleming and critic Alexis Soloski were also on the jury.
On April 3, Aasif Mandvi earned a 2013 Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor. On April 22 Ayad Akhtar received an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for the John Gassner Award. Akhtar won a 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting on May 20. On May 8, the production was nominated for a 2013 Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best New Play. It lost to Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike on May 21.
|2012||Joseph Jefferson Awards||Production – Play – Midsize||Nominated|
|Actor in a Principal Role – Play||Usman Ally||Nominated|
|New Work – Play or Musical||Won|
|Scenic Design – Midsize||Jack Magaw||Nominated|
|2013||Pulitzer Prize||Drama||Ayad Akhtar||Won|
|Lucille Lortel Award||Outstanding Lead Actor||Aasif Mandvi||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||John Gassner Award||Ayad Akhtar||Nominated|
|Obie Award||Playwriting||Ayad Akhtar||Won|
|Off Broadway Alliance Awards||Best New Play||Nominated|
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- Disgraced at the Internet off-Broadway Database
- Theatre in Chicago webpage
- Disgraced at Theater Mania