By: David Sheward
It seems like you can’t have a nice, quiet dinner or cocktail hour with friends and family in a Broadway show wit
hout everybody drunkenly exposing their true nasty selves. Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced is the latest in a long line of "in vino veritas" plays following Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, God of Carnage, August: Osage County, and many others. After a brief run off-Broadway, a London production, and the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, this 90-minute explosive device has detonated on Broadway with impressive impact.
The first two scenes set up the main action of the intense meal and are a bit long on exposition. The setting is the ritzy Upper East Side apartment (designed with understated elegance by John Lee Beatty) of Amir, a Pakistani-American lawyer, and Emily, his Caucasian wife and a rising painter. Amir has rejected his Muslim roots and embraced the corporate culture of his firm run mostly by Jews while Emily turns to Islamic traditions for her art. Their seemingly perfect world begins to unravel when Amir’s nephew Abe asks for legal advice on behalf of an imam accused of funding terrorists. The tension-filled get-together occurs in the third scene when the couple invites over Emily’s art dealer, Isaac, a Jewish intellectual, and his African-American wife Jory, who happens to be a work colleague of Amir. It sounds a bit like all five characters are cultural symbols rather than flesh and blood and Akhtar does indulge in a few clichéd contrivances to move the plot along-no spoilers here, but watch out an unconvincing infidelity. Nevertheless, the dialogue is spiky and thought-provoking.
The quartet (Abe is not at the dinner) colorfully clash over religion, race, art, war, and politics. Like a fine chef, director Kimberly Senior slowly raises the heat on this boiling cauldron so that it bubbles over at exactly the right moment. Movie-star handsome Hari Dhillon, who played Amir in London, begins with the swaggering confidence of a legal warrior and gradually strips away the protective armor to reveal the confused, self-loathing man beneath. Gretchen Mol does much with the thankless role of the impossibly naïve Emily who foolishly pushes her husband to defend the imam.
Josh Radnor of TV’s How I Met Your Mother offers a complex rendering of the pretentious Isaac and Karen Pittman, the sole survivor of the Off-Broadway production, deliver a fascinatingly jagged Jory. British actor Danny Ashok has relatively little stage time as Abe, but he manages to make us understand, if not sympathize with a young man frustrated by racist attitudes and turning towards radicalism. By making us examine several such hard issues, Disgraced succeeds despite a few structural flaws.
Opened Oct. 23 for an open run. Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St., NYC. Tue.-Thu., 7 p.m.; Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Running time: 90 mins. with no intermission. $37.50-$138. www.telecharge.com
Photography: Joan Marcus