Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Disgraced
Center Theatre Group
Review by Terry Morgan


Hari Dhillon, Emily Swallow, Karen Pittman
and J Anthony Crane

Photo by Craig Schwartz
When a play is described as "provocative," that's usually shorthand for sexual or violent content, and it's used to market the show. Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced, however, is the real deal—a smart play written for a smart audience about questions that have no easy answers. The current production at The Mark Taper Forum crackles with wit under Kimberly Senior's taut direction and features a superb cast. This is the best show the Taper has presented in years.

Lawyer Amir (Hari Dhillon) has gone to great lengths to erase from his life every aspect of his Muslim upbringing. He has rejected Islam and changed his last name to an Indian one, and he hopes to soon be made a partner at the firm. All of this changes when he does a favor for his liberal artist wife Emily (Emily Swallow) and his Muslim nephew Abe (Behzad Dabu) by checking the legality of an imam's incarceration. All of a sudden he is seen as a possible jihadist, and, at a dinner party with art critic Isaac (J. Anthony Crane) and Isaac's wife Jory (Karen Pittman), the complexities of his life come roaring into the foreground.

Dhillon excels at making Amir sympathetic, even as Amir says progressively more politically incorrect things, and makes the tragedy viscerally felt. Swallow is excellent as the well-meaning Emily, who isn't so pure that she won't use her husband to forward her art career. Crane is very funny as the bombastic Isaac, and he's got a great foil in Pittman, who happily pierces each of Isaac's pretensions as Jory. Dabu is good as Abe, but his character would benefit from more inclusion in the story.

Senior keeps the tension at a slowly rising boil, allowing her cast the time to fully develop the characters, which adds to the power of the show's conclusion. John Lee Beatty's handsome apartment set specifies the social stratum the characters inhabit effectively.

Akhtar examines the conflict between self and "tribal" identity in a way that's rarely been discussed in modern theatre, which is refreshing. He also plays fair with the audience: when something genuinely shocking occurs towards the play's end, he has set it up in the play's beginning.

This is an audacious and memorable show, and the Taper's production captures all the fireworks with deft precision. A must-see.

Disgraced, through July 17, 2016, at The Mark Taper Forum, at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue. Tickets and info are available at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

Center Theatre Group presents Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. Directed by Kimberly Senior. Lighting Designer, Christine A. Binder; Scenic Designer, John Lee Beatty; Costume Designer, Jennifer von Mayrhauser; Sound Designer, Jill BD Du Boff; Production Stage Manager, David S. Franklin.

Cast:
Amir : Hari Dhillon
Emily: Emily Swallow
Abe: Behzad Dabu
Isaac: J. Anthony Crane
Jory : Karen Pittman




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