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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Amir's not an alcoholic. He had a bad day at the office. — Emily
L-R: Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Caroline Kaplan, Kevin Isola, and Austene Van (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
Ever since earning plaudits for his play Disgraced during its runs both Off Broadway and then on Broadway, not to mention winning the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Pakistani-American playwright Ayad Akhtar has seen his play become one of the most produced in regional theaters across the country. As produced at the McCarter Theatre, in association with the Guthrie Theater and Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Disgraced continues, even after my having seen it twice, to affect me as an intellectually stimulating experience and as an emotion charged consideration of familial, racial, cultural and political issues — all of which seem to be defining a good portion of our daily lives.

That's a lot of baggage for one play. But then Disgraced does take a hard and uncompromising look at how easy it is for well-educated, socially sophisticated, politically savvy people to lose their cool and their sense of perspective when it comes to matters concerning religious beliefs, social standing and cultural identity. Add a little sexual impropriety and you've got a riveting play.

If I have some quibbles about the embellishments that the otherwise excellent director Marcela Lorca has imposed on the staging, they don't detract from the play's overall impact. These are the vague and shadowing movements of characters who appear but do not interfere as segues from one scene to the next. It's a visually pretentious effect. An enhancement that did work was the unsettling and jazzy underscoring composed by Sanford Moore.

It is the play and the superb players that count and they are a perfect fit. Amir (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh), a successful Pakistani-American lawyer and his adoring white American wife Emily (Caroline Kaplan), who is also receiving recognition as a fine artist, appear to be deeply in love and in complete harmony when we first see them on Saturday morning in their Upper East Side New York apartment (smartly designed by James Youmans.) She is sketching a portrait of him, inspired by a portrait of a slave by Valesquez. As he stands nattily dressed from the waist up — below he has on only his boxer shorts — it is clear by their chatter and show of affection that their racial divide has not been a divide. It has, in fact, proven a catalyst and an inspiration to Emily whose recent paintings have been noticed for their embrace of ancient Islamic tradition and design.

Things are destined to get out of hand, however, when they are visited by Amir's Pakistani-born nephew Abe (Adit Dileep) and later when two business colleagues — Isaac (Kevin Isola), a Jewish art curator from the Whitney and his African-American wife Jory (Austene Van) a lawyer who works with Amir for the same firm — come for dinner. Here is where, as in many a good play, people are seen moving characteristically from the rational to the irrational when faced with the need to either defend or refute ingrained beliefs. It takes the challenge one step farther and in a way that makes us see how a group of relatively high-minded, purportedly open-minded people can't see or avoid the pitfalls that inevitably come with being right and/or righteous. More plot details and analysis are covered in my 2012 review for CurtainUp ( Off-Broadway review and Broadway transfer review)

All five of the provocateurs are worthy of being seen as identity-challenged. Ebrahimzadeh is terrific as the fast-talking, upwardly mobile Amir whose fevered opportunism is as much a motivation as is his fervent secularism. Kaplan is impressive as Emily, the well-meaning, blindly liberal, (from my perspective: naive and short-sighted) wife. Isola makes a strong impression as Isaac, who ultimately has to work as hard to define himself as do the others, especially the excellent Van as the African-American who is now unapologetically climbing up the corporate latter. Fervent intensity marks Dileep's fine performances Abe whose allegiances are as vehemently expressed as is his real name Hussein is conveniently suppressed.

I wonder if you will see a more powerful or provocative play this year at any theater.

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Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Marcela Lorca
Cast: Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (Amir), Caroline Kaplan (Emily), Adit Dileep (Abe), Kevin Isola (Isaac), Austene Van (Jory)
Set Design: James Youmans
Costume Design: Ana Kuzmanic
Lighting Design: Rui Rita
Sound Design: Scott W. Edwards
Composer: Sanford Moore
Fight Director: Samantha Reading
Production Stage Manager: Alison Cote
Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Matthews Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton Tickets: (609) 258-2787
Performances: Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm, Sundays at 2pm.
From 10/11/16 Opened 10/14/16 Ends 10/30/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/14/16 NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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