BY ELIZABETH WIEST The Philadelphia Theatre Company kicked off their fall season with a stellar rendition of Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama Disgraced the Suzanne Roberts Theater. The play explores the issues of race and religious identity through the struggles of a high-powered Manhattan lawyer named Amir Kapoor (played with remarkable range by Pej Vahdat) as he searches for the truth of his identity amongst the constantly clashing Eurocentric and Islamic ideologies that cloud his judgment and, by the end, tears his job, marriage and lifestyle apart.
What was intended to be a civil dinner party amongst four diverse friends — Amir, the ex-Muslim; Jory an African-American; Isaac a Jew; and Emily a WASP — devolves into a nightmare when the topic of conversation turns to religion. The characters presented to us are caricatures of people we know, people we see every day, or god forbid people we are. During the course of the play all the sociocultural markers of their identities are stripped away piece by piece until they are naked souls.
The dinner table conversation touches on contemporary tragedy as well as ancient struggles: the 9/11 terrorist attacks, corruption in organized religion, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to name a few. Akhtar’s dialogue teases out the complexities and nuances in play, but never takes sides. The underlying sense of marginalization and alienation that each of the characters bring to the table acts as a catalyst for a gut-wrenching finger-pointing race riot within the confines of Amir’s apartment on the Upper East Side.
Disgraced is some of the most uncensored, uncomfortable and unforgettable piece of theater you will ever watch. Not for nothing did Disgraced win the Pulitzer for this blunt reminder that we cannot escape our most primal impulses. Fear of the other is hardwired into us because it’s how you survive in the wild: Never trust anyone or anything that you are not 100% certain will not try to eat you. The primal impulses that cause us to discriminate against the unknown, often to devastating effect, is also what makes us human, and what kept us from going extinct a long time ago.