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BWW Review: Shocking and Powerful DISGRACED at Seattle Rep

Nisi Sturgis, Bernard White, J. Anthony Crane and
Zakiya Young in Disgraced
Photo credit: Liz Lauren

In theater, as with any art form, playwrights can walk a fine line between telling a riveting and honest story and saying things simply for shock value. Ayad Akhtar's Pulitzer Prize winning play "Disgraced", currently playing at the Seattle Rep, walks that line. And while on the whole this extremely powerful piece opens its audiences up to an examination of who we are at our core, in retrospect I'll admit to feeling a bit manipulated as I recall harsh one-liners piled on top of each other culminating in a crescendo of shock. Effective shock but at times dipping its toe over the line into shock for shock sake and feeling a bit contrived.

It's definitely a story rife with potential turmoil as Pakistani American Amir (Bernard White), a successful lawyer, is confronted with attitudes towards his Muslim upbringing both from external sources and from within himself. He and his Caucasian wife Emily (Nisi Sturgis) are having friends over (J. Anthony Crane and Zakiya Young) to celebrate her new art show. But Amir's heritage has recently gotten a little more attention thanks to his politically active Nephew Abe (Behzad Dabu) and this attention threatens his career but also brings to light his own feelings about his lapsed faith and cultural ideals.

Director Kimberly Senior starts off the show with a very deliberate if not a bit slow and static pace but as the emotions climb so does the pace. But as much as that threw me off the show a bit it was really the deliberate nature of the script and its perfect storm of situations that felt, at times, forced. Sure, these are topics many people face today and sure, it's good for conversations to be started about them. But for pure theatrical storytelling, as powerful as these moments were it went just a tad too far into the realm of pandering in order to instigate those conversations. We had Muslim and Jewish ideals on top of 9/11 accusations on top of free speech issues on top of race issues all topped off with gender class issues and sprinkled with domestic violence. Yes, this play definitely goes to all those places and goes there hard which is difficult to watch and resulting in some powerful moments but how honest is piling them all into 80 minutes?

The cast is quite simply superb at traversing these tumultuous waters. White's transformation and arc within the play is a thing of beauty making this flawed man still sympathetic. Sturgis takes on her role beautifully and keeps her quite strong even in the face of vicious abuse. Crane and Young go well beyond sounding boards for the issues at hand and are forces of nature in their own right. Crane brings in some gorgeously nuanced layers to his character and Young brings a ton of confidence and presence to her role. And Dabu's emotion and conviction to his character is palpable.

So yes, the show is quite powerful and gets the discussions rolling. But for pure storytelling I found Akhtar's other play, "The Invisible Hand" far more elegant in getting there and so with my three letter rating system I give "Disgraced" a YAY but bordering on a MEH+. Yes, it gave me the thoughts and the feels but did it have to be so obvious in pushing those buttons?

"Disgraced" performs at the Seattle Rep through January 31st. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.


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From This Author Jay Irwin