Do You Feel ‘Disgraced’? Best to Ask Yourself, “Why?”
I stopped by the Brad Powell Theatre to catch the preview show of Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar and directed by Ron Heller. A challenging and intense piece of theater, it focuses on the themes of race and identity in a post-9/11 world. Specifically about Muslim Americans and the struggles they face, struggles that seem to get worse with every executive order.
Disgraced tells the story of Amir Kapoor (Troy M. Apostol) a successful corporate lawyer who seems to have it all: a swanky New York apartment, a blonde-haired beauty, and a big promotion on the horizon. After a slow start of exposition and plot setting, the play works its way toward a dinner party where the meat of the story really comes to the table. In attendance is Amir, an American born ex-Muslim, Amir’s wife, Emily (Courtney Coston), a Caucasian Islam-inspired artist, Jory (Victory Brown-Wilson), an African-American lawyer and work colleague of Amir, and finally, Issac (Max Holtz), Jory’s Jewish husband who’s also connected to Emily through their mutual work in the arts industry. I mention each character’s race because it’s important and represents America’s diverse society. It’s this diverse mixing of ethnicity, religion, and alcohol that really drives the play to its completion, leaving secrets, hidden agendas, and regrets in its wake.
Disgraced started out rather slow for me. The first two scenes were filled with exposition and made me wonder, "Do people really talk like this?" It felt more like listening to a novel as opposed to two individuals engaging in a real conversation. However, once we hit the dinner table, the pace intensifies and the action doesn’t stop until the final blackout. The play hits on topics of racial profiling, cultural degradation, patriarchy, domestic violence, religious persecution, identity, just to name a few. Though the writer chose to tackle of a lot of serious topics, it never once felt preachy. These are real issues happening in our Muslim communities and it deserves to be reflected upon and discussed. One moment that stuck out is a conversation during the dinner party where Amir reveals that when he goes on a flight, he volunteers to be searched when going though TSA. He feels like it’s less awkward that way, as we all know he’s going to get chosen regardless. I chuckled when Apostol delivered these lines, and the thought “it’s funny because it’s true” popped into my head and then traveled down my neck and punctured my heart like dagger. This is the world we live in now, where assumptions turn into fact, where raising your hands in the air can still get you shot, and where a religion you’re born into can get you banned from entering the land of the free.
Apostol’s performance was compelling and intense and carried the show from start to finish. Both Apostol and Coston delivered a very believable relationship, the love I felt for them made the end that much more impactful. Wilson delivered one of the most powerful performances I've ever seen her play, balancing the intensity with perfect comedic timing. Holtz delivered some very memorable moments, though I felt like he was holding back a little. I would have loved to see him let go a bit more during the dramatic moments. Noah Faumuina, who plays Amir’s millennial nephew, delivered the most believable and natural performances of the bunch. The cast supported each other and delivered a well-balanced show.
The set perfectly represented what I would imagine a ‘nice New York apartment I’d never be able to afford’ to look like. However, visible lines in the drywall were a little displeasing, and the metal legs of the dining table reflected a blinding light in my eyes that I had to force myself to ignore. What really took me out of the story though were the scene changes. One in particular involved the beautiful AD/SM Lanaly Cabalo packing up half the apartment in blue light that lasted at least 3-5 mins. I felt like it would have been more heartbreaking and apropos to the story to just watch Apostol in character packing up his own apartment. I felt like, at times, the steps taken (complex set changes, costume changes, etc.) to perhaps make it easier for the audiences to understand the story tended to do the opposite, taking us out of the story altogether.
Overall, Disgraced was a compelling and important piece of the theater, and I congratulate TAG, Ron Heller, and the cast and crew on a job well done. This show made me think about my identity, my upbringing, my faith, and whether society has ever made me feel like I couldn’t be proud of my heritage. We live in America, and regardless of the views of a particular political party/executive power, I will never forget the values this country stands for. This play taught me that I should never feel “disgraced” about my heritage. I implore you all to head to TAG and experience this play for yourself.
Disgraced is currently running at TAG now until May 28th. For more ticket and show information go to taghawaii.com or call TAG—The Actors’ Group at 722-6941.