by Ayad Akhtar.
Bush Theatre Uxbridge Road W12 8LJ To 29 June 2013.
Runs: 1hr 3min No interval.
Review: Carole Woddis 26June.
A clever, sophisticated cry from the heart.
Diasporas have made melting pots of many of our 21st century societies. We are no longer the homogenous cultures nostalgists would like to pretend we once were. Were we ever? England has always been a hybrid, mongrel nation. So too, the USA. Wasn’t it built on exiles hoping for a better life in the New World?
Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, this year’s Pulitzer prize winner, is a fascinating, scorching postcard from the cutting edge of `the other’, the outsider trying hard to fit in against a background of 9/11 and the events and perceptions it subsequently triggered. It’s all in the title. What it is to be a Muslim now.
Amir – Hari Dhillon, Holby City’s sexiest consultant, Michael Spence – is a smooth, apparently well assimilated Pakistani New York lawyer, married to an up-and-coming white, liberal artist, Emily. Theirs seems the perfect coupling.
But, Akhtar shows, Amir’s mainstream success is a veneer covering a complex, deep-rooted response to his Muslim inheritance. Very soon, the gloves come off, typically over the New York dinner table.
Part plea, part critical self-analysis with a spot of John Berger thrown in regarding the act and art of perception – Emily, influenced by Islamic art, has painted her husband as a latter day equivalent of a famous Velasquez portrait of a servant, Juan de Pareja, a Moor – Akhtar follows Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park in his dissection of racial prejudice, if without the humour.
Here, the focus is on the explosively contemporary one of Islam and fundamentalism. Once a Muslim always a Muslim, suggests Akhtar. And, as voiced by Emily’s art curator friend, Isaac and his African-American lawyer wife, Jory, this also tips over into Jewish-Muslim antagonisms, Islamaphobia in the highest reaches of the work place, especially one run by influential New York Jews.
If this seems a tad over-heated and ultimately tragic, the effect, as with the plays of Norris and David Mamet, is unquestionably gripping. Even shocking in its display of domestic violence and airing of uncomfortable, usually hidden views.
Nadia Fall’s elegant, traverse production draws out impassioned, nuanced performances especially from Dhillon and Kirsty Bushell’s Emily.
Amir: Hari Dhillon.
Emily: Kirsty Bushell.
Abe: Danny Ashok.
Isaac: Nigel Whitmey.
Jory: Sara Powell.
Director: Nadia Fall.
Designer: Jamie Todd.
Lighting: James Whiteside.
Sound: Mike Walker.
Movement: Jack Murphy.
Dialect coach: Michaela Kennen.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Sasha McMurray.
World premiere of Disgraced was in January 2012 at American Theater Company Chicago. First performance at the Bush Theatre, London 17 May 2013.