Ayad Akhtar's DISGRACED Comes to Cincinnati Playhouse This Fall

Some plays seem ageless, while others are uncannily current. DISGRACED is the kind of play that succeeds in being both timeless and timely. Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama and a 2015 Tony Award nominee for best play, Ayad Akhtar's DISGRACED makes its regional premiere to open the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's 2016-17 Thompson Shelterhouse season from Sept. 24 through Oct. 23.

DISGRACED asks audiences to examine taboo subjects such as religion and politics, to explore their own biases surrounding culture and identity and to question preconceived notions regarding the American Dream and the experiences faced by Muslims in our country. Currently one of the most-produced plays across the U.S., DISGRACED was a sold-out hit in New York, London and Chicago.

Amir Kapoor is a hotshot lawyer who has achieved considerable success. But, in order to reach those heights, Amir believes it necessary to reinvent himself, putting as much distance as he can between his current life and his Muslim upbringing without fully understanding the ramifications of his decisions. Ironically Amir's wife Emily, an up-and-coming painter, finds her own work increasingly inspired by the patterns and forms of classic Islamic art. When the couple hosts a dinner party for friends - Jory, a colleague hoping, like Amir, to earn a partnership at the law firm where they both work, and her husband Isaac, a curator at the Whitney Museum who has an interest in Emily's new paintings - polite conversation escalates into explosive debate. It's a discussion that illuminates in startling terms the not-so-hidden prejudices very much alive in America.

"DISGRACED puts the ideal 21st-century situation onstage - four successful people, equally balanced in gender, religion and ethnicity, share a meal - and the protagonist of the play is a prosperous Pakistani-American," says director Lisa Portes, who is making her Playhouse debut. "There it is: the American Dream. Everyone's different, everyone's winning and everyone gets along. And then the whole thing blows up.

"Why? I think that's the point of curiosity for audiences," Portes continues. "In trying to build a truly pluralistic 21st-century America, what are we missing? What do we learn about ourselves when the American experiment fails?"

Playwright Ayad Akhtar, the son of Pakistani doctors who migrated to the United States in the late 1960s, was born in New York and raised in Wisconsin. He became hooked on writing in high school, but struggled for years to find his voice.

As an adult, "I started to understand I was running from who I was," Akhtar told Arena Stage earlier this year. "I had been inculcated in the literary values of European modernism. I was trying to be a kind of writer that I wasn't. I was trying to ignore that my parents came from Pakistan and that I had a Muslim background. I didn't want to have anything to do with it ... When I started to understand that, I had enough presence of mind to not do anything about it, but just observe. And as I observed, I metaphorically looked over my shoulder at what I had been running from, and it led to an explosion of creativity."

The results included Akhtar's critically acclaimed 2012 coming-of-age novel American Dervish and DISGRACED, as well as plays The Who & The What and The Invisible Hand.

While the play resonates in the current environment of Islamophobia, Akhtar believes it also can be viewed more broadly. "I'm writing to the universal," he told The Wall Street Journal. "I just happen to be situated, because of my history, my upbringing, my passions, my ecstasies and my demons, to be writing subject matter that seems to be meeting the world in an unusually direct way."

The cast of DISGRACED includes Barzin Akhavan (Amir), Amin El Gamal (Abe), Maury Ginsberg (Isaac), Bethany Jillard (Emily) and Krystel Lucas (Jory).

In addition to Portes, the DISGRACED creative team features Brian Sidney Bembridge (set designer), Gordon DeVinney (costume designer), Thomas C. Hase (lighting designer) and Ray Nardelli (Sound Designer/composer). Andrea L. Shell is the stage manager.

Tickets for DISGRACED start at $35. Prices are subject to change, and patrons are encouraged to buy early for the best seats at the best prices. The show is appropriate for adult and older teenage audiences.

Tickets to 7 p.m. Sunday College Night performances are priced at just $10 for college students with a valid school ID. Student tickets are just $15 on the day of the show for all other performances.

Discounted ticket prices for teens and students are always available for $30.

Previews for DISGRACED are at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24; 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27; and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28. The official opening night is Thursday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 p.m.

Performances take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays.

Free Meet the Artists programs that allow audiences to interact with the cast and others associated with DISGRACED will be held after the following performances: 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12; and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20. Playhouse Perspectives talk-backs, supported by a gift from Roderick and Barbara Barr, will follow all other regular performances.

The Playhouse invites patrons to go beyond the play and take part in Playhouse Perspectives discussions at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, and 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10. The first, featuring representatives from The Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, will focus on a basic understanding of Islam and what it means to be an American Muslim today. The second will look at representations of Muslims in the media. The discussions are free and open to the public, but reservations are required and may be made by contacting The Playhouse Box Office at 513-421-3888.

Additionally, The Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati has graciously offered to provide special 90-minute tours for Playhouse patrons interested in visiting its facility in West Chester. Participants will learn about the basics of Islam and have the opportunity to explore the art and architecture of the campus, including the mosque and education building. A $2 donation is suggested at the door. Space is limited, so reservations should be made by calling The Playhouse Box Office at 513-421-3888.

The Playhouse is fully accessible. Audio enhancement receivers, large print programs and complete wheelchair access are available.

Tickets to DISGRACED are on sale now. For more information, call The Playhouse Box Office at 513-421-3888 (toll-free in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana at 800-582-3208) or visit www.cincyplay.com. Call 513-345-2248 for Telecommunications Device for the Deaf accessibility.

The Playhouse is fully accessible. Audio enhancement receivers, large print programs and complete wheelchair access are available.

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