Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning one-act, is a searing indictment of the prejudices we all carry inside of us. Now playing at the Playhouse San Antonio’s Cellar Theatre, the timing couldn’t be more perfect – considering the current political climate.
Amir (Suhail Arastu) is a Pakistani-American lawyer on the fast track to a partnership at his firm. He has an American wife, Emily (Kate Glasheen), with whom he shares a swanky apartment on New York’s Upper East Side. She is an artist who incorporates Islamic themes into her work, but that’s not necessarily something he approves of. He’d rather forget about his Muslim heritage than celebrate it in this post-911 world.
Amir’s nephew, Abe (Luis Legaspi), comes to ask him for help in defending a local imam who’s been accused of raising money for Hamas. Amir is reluctant at first, but Emily pleads for him to support the imam in court. He finally agrees, but when his pointed testimony is written up in the New York Times, he finds himself in danger of losing his career as the prejudices of his employers and co-workers rise to the surface.
Emotions come to a tipping point when Isaac (Nicholas Szoeke), who is a curator at the Whitney and supports Emily’s art, comes to dinner with his wife, Jory (Megan Van Dyke), who works with Amir at the same law firm. Shaken by the recent upsetting occurrences in his life, Amir has downed a few drinks, and when his guests arrive, he’s already itching for a fight. Soon he and Isaac are trading barbs about each other’s heritage, and it’s not long before the women are drawn into the melee.
Akhtar’s taut work (under 80 minutes) makes its points efficiently and emphatically, exposing the suspicions that all people internalize about “the other.” The Cellar’s cast, well-directed by David Rinear, is outstanding. Arastu plays Amir as if he’s constantly on the receiving end of electric shocks, and Glasheen impresses as the wife who wishes he would just embrace his heritage. Legaspi is quite effective as Abe (born Hussein), who at first sought to integrate into American culture but now rejects it. Szoeke also registers as the Jewish art curator, as does Van Dyke as his African American wife. Their climactic battle with Amir and Emily is appropriately shocking.
The speed with which the masks of gentility slip off to reveal the hatred that boils just below the surface makes for a powerful and important statement, and that’s why this production is essential viewing at this time.
Disgraced plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through April 9 at the Playhouse San Antonio’s Cellar Theatre, 800 West Ashby Place. Tickets can be obtained online or by calling (210) 733-7258.