Ayad Akhtar’s acclaimed play, “Disgraced,” was first produced in 2013 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an Obie Award for Playwriting that year. It received a Tony Award for Drama in 2015. This production, directed by Bill Hurlbut and produced by Hal Freed, marks Peace Mountain Theatre Company’s in-person reopening at its new home, The Writer’s Center in Bethesda.
The play follows a corporate lawyer, Amir Kapoor (Omar LaTiri), who seems to be living the American dream. He is successful, happy, and in love with his wife, Emily (Emily Joyce). He is vying for a partnership at his firm, which is owned by Jewish lawyers. His wife is an artist and has become enchanted with the art of Islam which she has incorporated into her paintings. The couple have two friends, Isaac (David Dubov), who works and the Whitney Museum and is also Jewish and his wife, Jory (Amber Champ), who is African-American and works at the same firm as Amir. Isaac offers to help organize a showing of Emily’s new work. The conflict of the play is introduced by Amir’s youthful nephew, Abe (Hamza Elnaggar), who wants him to help an Imam arrested under the Patriot Act (remember when the play was written). Emily encourages her husband to support the Imam even though Amir is worried it will affect his career. As the play progresses, more conflicts arise when Isaac and Jory come to visit a few months later.
‘Disgraced’ teaches without preaching. Its characters are windows into society and ourselves. This production is top-notch in every respect.
Both LaTiri and Joyce have created unforgettable characters. LaTiri’s Amir is a lapsed Muslim who still cannot rid himself from his upbringing by a “religious” mother. Emily would like to imagine she understands this religion she married into, but seems to never really comprehend what Amir deals with both in society (especially so soon after 9/11) and as a person raised as a Muslim. Neither character really has answers to their dilemma and by the end, neither does the audience. That is just what the playwright intended. The wonderful romantic chemistry of Amir and Emily seems to erode before our eyes as the plot proceeds, thanks to the insightful talent of the two actors.
Dubov’s Isaac is just the right mix of smarmy and self-righteousness. He intentionally never lets us feel comfortable with the character. His humorous scene with Jory is filled with needles.
As Jory, Champ lets the character’s own secrets and self-realizations unfold. Again, we are left not knowing what will happen next to her or even what Jory wants to happen. She is a control freak who suddenly loses control.
Elnaggar’s character also changes during the play from the young Pakistani immigrant who wants to fit into American culture to the young rebel who wonders if he even belongs in this new life.
All five actors play perfectly off each other which is attributable to the fine direction of Hurlbut who truly understands the author. He purposefully does not give clarity to the questions raised by Akhtar which makes this all work so well. We, like Amir, never see the world truly honestly. How he deals with his disgrace and how we deal with ours can never be answered in the present, or, perhaps, never.
John Decker’s set pays attention to the details. Emily’s painting with is Islamic overtones sits over the fireplace, almost lit up to keep our focus. His kitchen door opens to a kitchen-like floor. There are alcoves in his hallway which has the front door and bedroom door. There was a sense of simplicity and of design which you would expect from a home of an artist. Don Slater’s lighting design, Matthew Datcher’s sound design, and Marie Bissex’s costume design complement the production as well.
“Disgraced” has moments of humor. It also has some intrigue and, at times, seems to be a romantic melodrama, but at it’s core it does what theatre does best. “Disgraced” teaches without preaching. Its characters are windows into society and ourselves. This production is top-notch in every respect. If you can catch it this coming weekend, you will not be disappointed.
Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: For mature audiences due to subject matter and language.
“Disgraced” by Peace Mountain Theatre Company runs through November 21, 2021 at The Writers Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Chevy Chase, MD 20815, Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2pm. Click here for tickets. For Covid protocols, go to this link. To find out more about this show and PMTC’s 2021-22 Season, go to their website.
You can read to Susan Brall’s interview with the director, Bill Hurlbut here.