Disgraced is a 2012 play by Pulitzer Prize-winning Pakistani American playwright, novelist, screenwriter and actor Ayad Akhtar. This 90 minute stirring drama, directed by Sarah Goodes, is themed around religion, racial biases, opinionated societies and the identity crisis of many Muslim-American citizens, that is more evident post 9/11.
Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar : Photo Credit Prudence Upton
Set in an upstate New York apartment, Disgraced opens up to a successful and ambitious lawyer of South Asian descent, Amir Kapoor (Sachin Joab), and his American artist wife Emily (Geraldine Hakewill). Amir is confident, intelligent and climbing up the rungs of the corporate ladder at a fast pace. He is raring to be offered partnership at his law firm and imagining his name on the wall. It is quite clear that his ambition and career goals are not going to take a backseat under any circumstance. With a tongue that can cut through like a sword, Sachin is very convincing as the top notch lawyer who gets the job done, whatever the cost may be.
Sachin Joab who plays Amir Kapoor in Disgraced. Photo Credit: Prudence Upton
Amir belongs to a Muslim family and has Islamic values and traditions embedded deep within his conscience although he out rightly shuns many of those values. The stage play suggests that he is aware of this roots (based on incidents he remembers and verses of the Quran he knows), while his actions portray that he denies any links or connections to his traditional upbringing and is not a fan of his wife's deep interest in Islam inspired art. He has also gone to the extent of changing his surname from Abdul to Kapoor and insists he is politically correct of his parents' birthplace.
The dialogue is fast paced and the first 15 minutes set the tone of the play with much ease. I am a fan of stage plays that remove the guesswork and assumptions for the audience and offer a clear explanation of the situation at hand.
Still from play Disgraced. Photo Credit: Prudence Upton
Before you know it, it is the dinner party which is the crux of the whole play. Amir and Emily are joined by Isaac (Glenn Hazeldine) and his wife Jory (Paula Arundell). While it may sound convenient, Isaac is Jewish and is looking to give Emily's artwork a break in his upcoming show and African-American Jory and Amir work at the same law firm.
Dinner begins with mundane conversation starters, exchange of opinions on subjects however it suddenly springs into a debate on origins, religious beliefs, politics and ideologies. Opinions are stated, truths are revealed and what follows is profound allegations and angry accusations. The question is, does Amir hold his ground and get his point across in a logical manner, or does Amir's buried traditional beliefs get the better of him and lead to his downfall.
As I was watching the play and closely observing Sachin's mannerisms and reactions, I was trying to get into Amir's mind. Is it ethnic prejudice, a notion of self-inflicted racial bias, a hidden agenda or a sense of fear to accept his roots that could jeopardise his position at the firm that bothers him so much? What is it that boggles the mind of such a highly talented corporate lawyer?
Geraldine is charming and plays Emily effortlessly. She has persuasive powers over Amir and is very subtle about it.
Paula Arundell is perfectly cast as Jory. She occurs to me as of the top lawyers straight out of the American show Suits. She is witty and brings some comic relief to the otherwise serious topics of discussion. I commend her ability to express a thousand words with her eyes and expressions.
This is the Australian premiere of Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced and it has already proven to be a sell-out show packed with powerful performances. After a successful run at Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, Disgraced is playing between 16-18 June 2016 at Riverside Parramatta before proceeding on a Canberra tour between 22 June and 25 June, playing at Canberra Theatre Centre.