Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Disgraced: The Bone-Deep Cuts of Racism
Also see Dean's review of Beauty and the Beast
The one-act Disgraced begins quietly in the apartment of married couple Amir and Emily. She's a rising artist and he's an attorney bucking for partner in an elite New York firm. He comes from an Islamic background, though he has renounced Islam. She's fascinated by the traditions of the Islamic world and has included religious symbols in her art.
They are visited by Abe, Amir's nephew, who appeals to Amir to help a local imam who, according to Abe, has been imprisoned unjustly. Amir rejects the idea since he has cast aside his faith, but Emily joins Abe in urging Amir to bring his lawyer skills to the imam's aid. Amir capitulates, and soon finds that his name and the name of his law firm employer end up in the newspaper. Amir fears his job is in jeopardy.
Then comes an interesting dinner a few days later. Amir and Emily have friends over: Isaac, a Jewish art dealer who has decided to include Emily's work in an critical upcoming show, and his African-American attorney wife Jory, who works with Amir. We soon see the mix go caustic as suppressed bigotry rises to the surface nearly without provocation.
As shocking as that might be, and as upsetting as it is to Isaac, things begin to get worse, and then they get worse again, and then they get really bad. Raw stuff. We get a view of the world that shows that racism is so ingrained, so deep, it may be part of our DNA, inescapable, impossible to suppress when the pressure's on. The play is brave territory for playwright Akhtar. He picks at the cultural scab of racism and finds that healing hasn't even started.
In many ways, the play is conventional. Akhtar is not playing with artistic form. The subject matter is so powerful artifice would only blunt it. He's not aiming for the stars; he's aiming for honesty that is so disturbing, a glance to the stars would seem just an escape. While working with specific aspects of Islamic and Jewish views, he manages to avoid stereotyping, but he can't help but come close.
Director Jacqueline Reid delivers a straight shot to the heart of the drama. She makes sure all of the tensions are big and clear and that nothing distracts from the play's power. She's well-served by the all-Equity cast. John San Nicolas, playing Amir, and Celia Schaefer, playing Emily, have come in from Portland and New York respectively. They are both excellent. Gregory Wagrowski as Isaac is wonderful, as usual. He disappears so completely into the character, he's hard to recognize, and I've seen him a lot in the last few years. Angela Littleton as Jory is always terrific, though she doesn't have as much to do here as the other three main characters. Samuel James Shoemaker-Trejo is solid as Abe, though the role is small.
The production support is strong as is always the case at Fusion productions. Kudos to Maria Lee Schmidt as production/stage manager, Richard K. Hogle as scenic/lighting designer, and Brent Stevens as sound designer. The Fusion continues to bring important new plays to Albuquerque, and the company does a superb job of presenting them.
Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar is directed by Jacqueline Reid for Fusion. The play runs at the Cell Theatre, 700 1st. St. NW, Thursdays through Sundays, ending on Friday, September 25, 2015. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances begin at 8:00 pm. There is a Saturday afternoon performance at 2:00 pm, and Sunday performances are at 6:00 pm. On Saturday, September 26, there will be a performance at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe at 7:30. Adults are $40. Seniors and students are $35. For reservations, go to fusionabq.org or call 505-766-9412.