BWW Reviews: DISGRACED at Circuit Playhouse

DISGRACED opened this weekend at Circuit Playhouse, under the direction of Irene Crist. It only runs for two more weekends, including Sunday matinees, and it's well worth a look. Ayad Akhtar's play premiered in Chicago in 2012 and won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize (2013), followed by a Tony Award nomination for Best Play (2015) for a New York production.

BWW Reviews: DISGRACED at Circuit Playhouse
Photo: FindMemphis (McDonald/Simmers)

DISGRACED brings together two couples for a dinner party in a swank Manhattan apartment. And while these couples are married, at least in form, they're of different backgrounds. Amir (Gregory Szatkowski) is from Pakistan, his wife Emily (Natalie Jones) is straight white; Isaac (Gabe Buetel-Gunn) is Jewish, his wife Jordy (Jessica Johnson) is African-American. Two of these folks are corporate lawyer types; the other two are into the arts. Everyone looks good and is doing well, at least on the surface.

While we guess these differences may have attracted this group to each other in the first place, heritage and history quickly begin to smolder. The main story line focuses on Amir, the guy most in conflict with himself and the others. And for good reason, he seems to have gone the furthest in throwing over his past, his identity. Born a Muslim in a faraway land, he now declares: "I'm an apostate," as he throws back a glass of scotch. Now he works in a Jewish law firm, trying to make partner. His nephew Abe (Shaleen Cholera), brings this into stark relief as he argues with his uncle about faith and the life he leads. In some ways, it's the age-old struggle for assimilation, as American as apple pie.

So as the nice dinner party gets going, hidden prejudices begin to simmer like strange aromas from the kitchen. Philosophical viewpoints deteriorate into personal grudges as identity takes over. Ideas turn into arguments; arguments become fights (with more scotch and wine generously applied). Finally, the knives come out and the end reveals . . . well, I won't spoil it. But safe to say that DISGRACED deals with very tough, contemporary social and political issues. No tidy answers here.

BWW Reviews: DISGRACED at Circuit Playhouse
Photo: FindMemphis (McDonald/Simmers)

The entire story unfolds in a New York apartment, so DISGRACED is long on talk, short on action. But the script shows a sharp intelligence that keeps it moving along. It's urgent and aggressive, with few pauses and no white space. (Circuit staged this as a One-Act, running 75 minutes with no break.) Though some of the playwright's lines veered toward the predictable and polemical, the energetic performances and occasional laugh kept the show clear of that dreary edge.

This play will lead to interesting after-theater discussions for most audiences, even if these characters aren't terribly likeable or appealing. The married couples hardly seem loving or warmly connected. I didn't feel much sympathy for them in their struggles, though the young nephew was more engaging on this score. But all this is no problem. DISGRACED seeks to grab your attention, not your heart. And it does this quite well in a taut, stimulating production. Brings your friends to the show and have a good talk afterwards.

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