Regional Reviews: Boston
The Huntington Theatre Company's production of Disgraced, under the thoughtful direction of Gordon Edelstein, is taut and smart, featuring outstanding performances from an intrepid cast and excellent production values. Upon first viewing, Lee Savage's set design prompted me to remark that I'd like to live in the sleek Upper East Side apartment of Amir Kapoor (Rajesh Bose) and his wife Emily (Nicole Lowrance). They live in a style afforded by his high-powered position in a law firm dealing with mergers and acquisitions, and appointed by her artist's taste in Islam-themed decor. The parquet floor in the living room gleams, filtered sunlight warms the adjacent dining area, and an upstage galley kitchen beckons from behind a half-wall room divider and a semi-opaque cabinet suspended from the ceiling. A colorful mandala on the rear wall matches the sofa and draws the eye into the scene.
From the opening dialogue, it is clear that Amir is a Master of the Universe-type guy as he fields phone calls and barks orders to an underling, while Emily is a talented painter on the brink of success. Amir's rejection of his Muslim religion and way of life is the source of discord between them, especially when his nephew Abe, née Hussein (Mohit Gautam), shows up seeking his help for an incarcerated imam and Emily advocates for the idea. Despite his misgivings, Amir appears at a hearing in court to support the imam and ends up with his name in the New York Times, making it look like he was the attorney representing him. Consider this the first step on the slippery slope that will change the lives of each of the characters, but not necessarily in ways that they envision.
By the time Isaac (Benim Foster), Emily's art promoter, and his wife Jory (Shirine Babb), another attorney in Amir's office, come for dinner three months later, things have changed and power is shifting within Amir and Emily's relationship. The partners have been looking into Amir's background and his past is catching up to him, while Emily's opportunities are blossoming. The table is set for conflict as the discussion turns to Islam and the Quran, and each person's comments are informed by their background (Isaac is Jewish, Jory is African-American, Emily is a WASP) and opinions of Muslims, with the harshest remarks voiced by Amir. His antipathy creates friction with the others and the tension builds until he makes a startling admission, leaving the others in stunned silence. For the audience, it feels as if the air has been sucked from the room while we wait for the other shoe to drop. Before the end of the scene, there will be more reveals, a virtual explosion of dropping shoes that is astonishing.
The final scene takes place six months later. Everything looks different and everything is different, but that is as much as I will say so as not to be a spoiler. However, it is a credit to Bose and Lowrance that their portrayals of the changes in their characters and the arc of the marriage are thoroughly realistic. Gautam returns as Hussein is facing a new and more serious challenge in his life. In addition to reverting to his birth name, he is questioning his destiny as a Muslim and what kind of life he can have in America. It is a question that Amir has answered with assimilation, for better or worse. It is a question that every immigrant, refugee, and minority ethnic group has had to ask itself when it reaches our shores. In 2016, is it possible to fully assimilate into the culture? That's only one of many questions that leave the theater with you.
Disgraced, performances through February 7, 2016, at Huntington Theatre Company, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-266-0800 or www.huntingtontheatre.org.
Written by Ayad Akhtar, Directed by Gordon Edelstein; Scenic Design, Lee Savage; Costume Design, Ilona Somogyi; Lighting Design, Eric Southern; Sound Design, David Van Tieghem; Fight Director, Rick Sordelet; Hair & Wig Design, Charles G. LaPointe; Production Stage Manager, Emily F. McMullen; Stage Manager, Jeremiah Mullane
Cast (in order of appearance): Rajesh Bose, Nicole Lowrance, Mohit Gautam, Benim Foster, Shrine Babb