Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Disgraced
National Tour
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Wizard of Oz


Joe Isenberg, Nehal Joshi, Ivy Vahanian,
and Felicia Curry

Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Ayad Akhtar's play Disgraced, with its examination of ethnic identity and cultural appropriation, was already timely in 2013 when it won the Pulitzer Prize. Because of changes in political discourse over the ensuing three years, the play seems even more immediate in its current production at Arena Stage in Washington.

The play centers around Amir (Nehal Joshi), a New York lawyer of Pakistani descent who has walked away from his Islamic heritage and changed his last name from Abdullah (Muslim) to Kapoor (possibly Hindu). He has only negative feelings for what he sees as a backward, even destructive ideology.

On the other hand, Amir's wife Emily (Ivy Vahanian), a Caucasian who never discusses her religion but is probably Christian, is fascinated by the "beauty and wisdom" she finds in Islamic art. She is a painter who consciously uses Islamic forms in her own work.

Amir faces his first challenge when his devout nephew Abe (Samip Raval) requests his help in freeing an imam who has been arrested for possible links to terrorism. Interestingly, Abe plays the assimilation game too: he may be active in his mosque, but he changed his name from Hussain to make things easier at work.

The other characters are Isaac (Joe Isenberg), a (not very observant) Jewish art dealer considering Emily's works for his gallery, and his wife Jory (Felicia Curry), African-American and a lawyer in the same firm as Amir. The fuse may have been lit before Isaac and Jory come to dinner, but their presence—and Amir taking issue as what he sees as outsiders trying to tell him what he should think about his own beliefs—is what sets off the explosion.

Director Timothy Douglas and his dead-on cast, whose performances work beautifully both as individuals and together, show a strong understanding of Akhtar's button-pushing script to make the eventual conflict between Amir and Emily seem inexorable. What seems at first a small crack in their connection spirals outward over the course of about 90 minutes.

Washington audiences who only know Joshi for his musical roles (Ali Hakim in Oklahoma!, Sancho in Man of La Mancha) will be surprised and impressed by the forthrightness and pride of his performance here, far different from his earlier giddy charm.

Scenic designer Tony Cisek and lighting designer Michael Gilliam have added to the sense of one's home as a symbol of personal identity through their depiction of an aspirational New York City apartment: soaring ceiling, large windows looking out on city landmarks, an eye-catching contemporary chandelier, artworks throughout, and a sense of boundless space offstage.

Arena Stage
Disgraced
April 22 - May 29, 2016
By Ayad Akhtar
Emily: Ivy Vahanian
Amir: Nehal Joshi
Abe: Samip Raval
Isaac/Fight Captain: Joe Isenberg
Jory: Felicia Curry
Directed by Timothy Douglas
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


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