Yes, Disgraced is a play that can feel as uncomfortable as a racism-coated Thanksgiving with a family you never want to see.
But uncomfortable feelings are important, with context. You may just learn something about yourself.
Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar is a 2012 play that follows an Pakistani-American lawyer (Amir) who is ashamed of his culture, and makes an effort to hide it from his primarily Jewish law firm. The pressure of his internalized Islamophobia, outside forces, and his wife (Emily) confessing she’s had an affair leads him to snap and crumble from within.
American Stage’s Disgraced director Sharifa Yasmin and associate director Maisha Khan say the complicated topics of this show are tough to digest.
"It really captured that post-9/11 Islamic experience of feeling so much shame about your culture," Yasmin said. "When you see negative propaganda about Islam, it makes you wonder if you are bad yourself. Looking at Islam through a white American gaze is not authentic."
Both Sharifa and Maisha grew up in Muslim households but no longer practice the religion in the traditional sense.
"I’m very protective of how Islam is criticized by non-muslim people," Yasmin said.
Disgraced opens the doors for judgment. Whether that be on Emily for appropriating her husband’s Islamic roots, or on Amir for his extreme self-denial and eventual toxic masculinity.
She has a solid point. The Muslim characters in Disgraced are deeply flawed, and the same can be said for the white characters. But will white audiences be able to unpack their internal biases to see the deeper meaning behind the play?
"White characters get to be a representative forthemselves, " Khan said. "That’s not true for minorities. When I first read this play, I had really conflicting feelings about these complex characters and the weight of their communities. BIPOC characters sometimes get pigeonholed into model minorities, where the white characters get to be themselves.”
Racism from work, Emily’s admitted affair, and the pressure of Amir’s internal struggle with his culture eventually bubble up into a dinner party festering with animosity. When Emily eventually admits to having an affair, Amir gets physical with his wife.
It’s a deeply unsettling moment, and that’s not lost on anyone.
"There’s something deeply poetic about being so terrified of being the worst version of yourself that you end up becoming it anyway," Khan said.
Amir hitting his wife Emily is a deep-rooted example of toxic masculinity and men resorting to violence when they feel as if they cannot talk through big emotions, in this case, a lapse of faith and culture on Amir’s part.
Our director says she will do her best to include that uncomfortable moment, and the tense moments after the act, without sensationalizing it.
"But there has to be a content advisory here. I’m very conscious of how we bring this story to audience members. To have a moment of violence in the show... we don’t know what people have been through," Yasmin said.
Maybe audiences will be appalled by Emily’s "sanitization" and appropriation ofIslamic traditions in her art. Maybe Amir’s inability to work through his toxic emotions will spark something in someone. Either way, it’s one to watch with an open mind.
by Ayad Akhtar
directed by Sharifa Yasmin
This Pulitzer Prize winning play tells the story of Amir Kapoor, a successful Pakistani-American lawyer who is rapidly moving up the corporate ladder while distancing himself from his cultural roots.