On Super Bowl Sunday, the night where all football fans were congregating by their flat screens, veggie platters and bowls of chips, The Alliance Theatre was busy filling up for a performance of the drama “Disgraced.” The stage was set in an expensive New York City apartment with lavish furniture that was a splendid sight to look at with hopes that someday you might afford those type of furnishings.
When first hearing about the play and how it explores Muslim American stereotypes, the word that usually comes to mind is “terrorists.” It is easy to think that the play might tackle the challenges Muslim Americans go through, especially when many people associate them with the Al Queda and Taliban groups. But after seeing the production, the audience realizes that the play has nothing to do with terrorists.
“Disgraced” was written by Palestinian playwright Ayad Akhtar. The drama leads the audience through a story about a man named Amir Kapoor, who is a successful lawyer in New York City. Amir tries to distance himself from his Muslim roots and pretends to be Hindu. This is easy for him since his name is thought of as an Indian name by his co-workers. His wife, a beautiful Caucasian, is an artist striving to incorporate Muslim culture into her art. This creates incessant arguments between the married couple. The true conflict of the play — where the audience becomes absolutely still and speechless — is at the dinner party that Amir and his wife host to celebrate her paintings being shown at a gallery.
Not only does this play explore the stereotypes of Muslim Americans, but the playwright also introduces a prosperous Jewish art collector and a successful African American lawyer as the guests at Amir’s dinner party. Unlike Amir, the guests do not pretend to be someone else in order to benefit their professional life. Amir chooses to pretend to be Hindu because it benefits his career and shields him from harassment and does not interfere with his promotions. Amir rejects the Muslim faith because he does not believe that it worships the right things. He even states that “the Qur’an is hate mail to humanity.” But there is a key moment in the show when the characters force us to rethink our perspectives about a particular terrorist attack. Amir admits that he feels pride because the Muslims had finally won on 9/11 For the audience, it is hard to tell what feeling is stronger — the shock after this revelation, or respect for Amir’s bravery to acknowledge something so personal and unforgivable.
The actors in the production played their roles magnificently making the audience pity and love them at the same time. Andrew Ramcharan Guillarte plays Amir in the show. Not only does he fit the role physically, but every time Guillarte speaks, he commands the stage and we’re drawn in and interested in what his character has to say. Last seen in the role of Dale Harding in the Alliance production of “ One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” last fall, Andrew Benator plays a Jewish gallery owner in “Disgraced.” A versatile actor, Benator has great nonverbal moments in the play where he does not speak, but he shows all the emotions on his face. One of the most powerful things an actor can do is be able to affect the audience emotionally just by his or her facial expressions with no words coming out of their mouth. Together, Guillarte and Benator take the audience on a journey with Amir as he discovers that even though he disagrees completely with the Muslim faith, deep within him lies a pride for the religion that he was raised in. At the end of the show when Amir stands center stage with a fading spotlight on him, the audience is absolutely silent. Some had tears in their eyes, overwhelmed by emotions. It took the audience a couple of silent and ponderous minutes before giving a standing ovation to the actors who had been cast so well for their roles, leaving us with inspiration and new ideas.
People walked out of the theater more aware of the stereotypes of different races and religions. Not everyone probably took away the same morals from the show, for the audience was of all ages. And there was quite a lot to take away. 1. One should never abandon who they are because of fear. 2. It is better not to judge people solely by their race, religion or ethnicity. 3. It can be brave to admit that you can empathize with an ideology without sharing the core values of that ideology, just like Amir did in the play.
The Alliance Theatre recommended this show for 17 years of age and above. But people of all ages could benefit from seeing this show for its well-written words and diverse and complicated characters. “Disgraced” teaches everyone morals and lessons that can benefit every single person who comes and sees it. This show raises a lot of questions about how stereotypes and religion define humans, but ultimately leaves them for the audience to answer.