Akhtar’s 2012 play Disgraced focuses on Amir Kapoor (Gaurav Kripalani), a successful Pakistani-American lawyer who has rejected his Pakistani-Muslim ethnicity and background and taken on the Indian-Hindu name of Kapoor. His wife Emily (Jennifer Coombs) on the other hand is an artist whose forte is in Islamic themes and motifs. Whilst this couple have a loving and happy marriage as the play opens, Amir becomes involved in a controversial legal case involving an Imam via his wife’s and nephew’s (played by Ghafir Akbar) insistence, after which a dinner spent with their friends Jory (LaNisa Frederick) who is also Amir’s colleague and Isaac (Daniel Jenkins) who is Emily’s Jewish art dealer, raises thorny and sensitive issues that give rise to brutally honest answers that threaten to break up Amir and Emily’s union.
It is no wonder that Akhtar’s play won the 2013 Pulitzer for Drama as the writing delves deeply into racial and religious issues of being a non-White Muslim in America. Akhtar doesn’t shy away from laying on the facts as they really are (especially in 2016), and leaves the audience either feeling uncomfortable because the truth is seldom beautiful or easy to stomach, or feeling relieved because finally someone has worded things perfectly to reflect what life is like when you’re an Asian/Muslim minority in the US of A.
By the time Amir yells at African-American Jory, “I still leave the office after you do! You think you’re the n***** here? I’m the n*****! Me!”, Akhtar has already, through the lens of reality, shown the audience the everyday problems Muslims face, so much so that line just seals the deal that Disgraced is probably one of the truest plays around – perhaps even a testament to the zeitgeist of our times.
However, despite the insightful dialogues, Akhtar cheapens his effectual writing by including an unnecessary affair between two of the characters, and a violent behaviour which seems to be uncharacteristic of the offender and seems to come from nowhere.
Also, the acting from the cast didn’t quite live up to this critic’s expectations. Aside from Frederick, who was very believable and a natural on stage – as well as a real delight to watch, – the other thespians seemed awkward as if they couldn’t relax in their roles. It was rather obvious the entire time that they were acting and didn’t fully embody their characters.
The single set though was well crafted and presented the home of the Kapoors and the costumes donned by the cast were appropriate to the nature of the characters and to the neutral palate of the set.
To Singapore Repertory Theatre’s (SRT) credit, Disgraced has pulled in large audiences, with their extended run also selling out, thereby proving that when you put up a play about the current times, people will want to watch what you have to say.
Singapore Repertory Theatre’s interpretation of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced played at the KC Arts Centre from November 16th to December 9th 2016.