Written by Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Robert Ross Parker
Starring Raoul Bhaneja, Karen Glave, Gabe Grey, Michael Rubenfeld, Birgitte Solem
The Citadel – Shoctor Theatre
Now – February 12
Tickets: Prices Vary – Lowest $25.00
Good theatre can do many things to you, but one of most important, yet least talked about, is make you uncomfortable. Disgraced, the award-winning stage play now on at the Citadel, is great at this, serving as a reminder that you’re not always supposed to like what you’re watching. The action and drama of the show often left me with my mouth hanging open and the audience gasping in shock.
Disgraced is set in New York over the course of a few months in 2011-2012 and follows Amir (Raoul Bhaneja), a corporate lawyer and former Muslim. The show tracks Amir’s struggles in modern-day America and his attempts to help his younger cousin Abe (Gabe Grey). The show ultimately builds to a pivotal dinner party scene with Amir’s wife Emily (Brigitte Solem) and their friends Isaac (Michael Rubenfeld) and Jory (Karen Glave). With everyone a few drinks in, secrets come out and nothing is left sacred.
It’s no secret Disgraced is a well celebrated show. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 2015. This current iteration of Disgraced, produced by Hope and Hell Theatre Company, was performed at Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre in 2016, and was quickly picked up by the Citadel for this current season.
Stand-out performances from Raoul Bhaneja and Michael Rubenfeld are a first highlight. They are thrilling separately, but when paired together the energy and tension of their scenes together come alive. Most of the jaw-dropping moments of the play happen with or between these two actors, including a particularly shocking turn in which one them gets spit on in a heated moment.
But this kind of tension and drama can only be built through good writing. Fortunately, Disgraced has plenty, with dialogue that is interesting, realistic, and constantly moving the play forward while not being overly wordy. Themes surrounding Islam and Islamophobia in America, faith, and race are all discussed effectively and new perspectives on these issues (new to me at least) are proposed. Inherently, the touchy subjects lead to tensions on stage that will have you perched at the end of your chair, ready to collapse at the drop of a word.
Behind-the-scenes, technical elements such as lighting and sound design are effective as well. Their minimalism is particularly nice as scenes transition fluidly with blackouts and a light jazz piano score. Most notable of all though is the set. The stage becomes a beautiful apartment, completely modern, and precisely resembling the image of a home you’d expect a rich New York lawyer to live in.
Despite the praise, there is some room for criticism. Despite his good acting, Gabe Grey looks too old to be a young Muslim teen and at times comes off as unconvincing. Part of this is his costuming, which is a frequently comical spattering of ‘millennial’ clothing — camouflage Turkish pants, baggy but tight at the ankles, a sideways Yankees cap, and sneakers is just a weird combo. Although this may be intentional as Abe is a teen struggling to fit into American society, it was distracting. Finally, what little stage fighting there was in the play appeared almost completely fake. The punches clearly missed the supposed victim and the naps (the noises actors make to emulate the sound of punches or kicks) did not always sync up with the hits.
Despite these minor gripes, Disgraced is an important and must-see play. With tense discussions on Islam in modern-day America, Disgraced is perhaps even more relevant now than it was five years ago. This show will leave you uncomfortable but it’s a discomfort that’s rewarding, if not necessary.