BWW Review: DISGRACED at Iowa Stage: Theatre at It's Best
When Iowa Stage puts on a production, you can expect a few things going into the show, a strong production with some of the best actors in Des Moines, and a show that challenge the way you may think. The 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner "Disgraced" by Ayad Akhtar is no different as it looks at issues such as Islamaphobia and the self-identity of Muslim Americans. In the post 9/11 world that we live in, these are very important but tough issues to look at. Shows like this that push the audience to think, are the shows that remind people why we get into theatre, and why it is so important.
The show opens with Muslim American Lawyer Amir Kapoor, who is on a track to become a partner for the firm he works for. At the request of his Caucasian wife Emily and his Muslim American nephew Abe gets involved in a controversial case for a man who Abe feels was falsely accused of financing a terrorist group. Amir doesn't want his name associated with the case but is thrust into it when his name as well as the firm he works for get's mentioned in "The New York Times." Amir worries about the effect that this will have as he continues his path to becoming a partner. As the play continues, it deals with the ramifications of being involved in that case, as well as discusses the issues mentioned above.
The technical element that struck me the most in this show was the set. Beautifully designed by Kiah Kayser, the set transported the audience to the apartment where the show took place. I appreciated how confined the playing area was. It worked well with the show as Amir's world begins to cave in on him, the space allows the action to trap him in as well. I was also struck at how much thought went into the color of the apartment. The light blue color painted on the walls helps to accentuate the colors on the painting that becomes a pivotal part of the play.
While each actor does a tremendous job and brings a different point of view to the show, with the issues tackled by the show, I think it is important to look at both the actors that played Amir and Abe as they play the two characters in the show with Muslim backgrounds. Without their portrayals and characters, I feel that the show wouldn't have been able to talk about these issues as successfully as it did.
Abe is played by Vasudev Nambury who is making his stage debut. He had the daunting task of showing us how a person might start becoming radicalized. The play does not condone radicalization, it simply asks us to take a look at the way we treat people and if that can sew a seed that leads to radicalization. Vasudev did a great job of showing that. At the beginning of the show, he showed true concern that someone was not getting a fair trial because of their religion. As the show progresses, and he's faced with the same situation where he is falsely accused, he shows us the character feeling defeated with nowhere else to turn. His portrayal showed us a man who was so defeated that he felt the only option left is to fight back.
On the other side, we have Amir played by brilliantly by Sid Juwarker. His moment of defeat happens before the show even starts. The character instead of starting down the path of radicalization decides to completely hide who he is. Sid does a great job of showing the character happy with where his life is, and almost successful at hiding his upbringing as Muslim. As the events of the play start happening and his life starts unraveling, Sid slowly lets the audience see his character start to boil. When he gets to his point that he explodes, as an audience member, you are left to question why acts the way he does. Is it because that is who is always has and will be, or is it because society has pushed him to that point.
As theatre does, "Disgraced" challenges us an audience to look inward. It asks us to look at our actions and how they may affect other people. It asks us to think about how we view people who may be a different religion or culture than us. While the show may make you feel uncomfortable at times, it is done in a way that makes you leave the theatre and take time to reflect on the show, I personally want to thank Iowa Stage and all involved with putting on such a powerful production. "Disgraced" by Ayed Ahktar will continue performances at Iowa Stage through May 19. To find out more about the show, or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.iowastage.org/