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Theater Review: “Disgraced"

“Disgraced” plays through November 13, 2016 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.
Photo credit:
San Diego Repertory Theatre

John Iacovelli’s spiffy apartment design belies the conversational vitriol to come in San Diego Repertory Theatre’s powerful production of Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Disgraced,” playing through Nov. 13 on the Lyceum stage.

You could read something into the first image we see – artist Emily (Allison Spratt Pearce) sketching corporate attorney husband Amir Kapoor (Ronobir Lahiri).

She’s drawing Amir in a suit coat, blindingly white shirt and tie ... but because it’s a portrait, he’s wearing only underwear and socks below the waist. 

But there’s no need to get into those weeds.

Soon enough we’ll see that religion (especially Islam) and secularism, perception vs. reality and the sense of “otherness” vs. the need to belong (if only in order to get ahead) are only a few of the questions under discussion.  

For example, Amir’s 22-year-old nephew Abe Jensen (né Hussein Malik) will knock on the door to ask his uncle to intervene in the case of a local Imam wrongly accused on a terrorism charge.

But Amir, who describes himself as an “apostate Muslim,” has his eye on becoming a partner at his law firm and is fearful that association with the Imam in question will scotch those ambitions.

He does agree to show up at a hearing, after which he is named in a newspaper article as “supporting the Imam.” How will this affect Amir’s ambitions?

Meanwhile, Emily is visited by Isaac (Richard Baird), a curator at New York’s Whitney art museum, where she hopes to have her work displayed.

Isaac likes Emily’s art (which, she freely admits, is much influenced by Islamic art’s forms and patterns) and agrees to take a large piece hanging in their home for the exhibit, along with several others.

Her enthusiasm for Muslim art (“I mean, without the Arabs, we wouldn’t even have visual perspective”) prompts this response from Isaac: “You know what you’re going to be accused of? Orientalism.”

This trio, along with Isaac’s down-to-earth African American wife Jory (Monique Gaffney) – another attorney at Amir’s firm – will meet for dinner in the explosive third scene, where alcohol-fueled tempers flare, friendships fray and the unthinkable happens.

Director Michael Arabian plays this piece at a good clip (it runs only 90 minutes), allowing his characters to throw the many ideas to the audience for consideration on the trip home without bogging down the onstage action (and there are many ideas here worthy of discussion).

Broadway/off-Broadway veteran Lahiri is terrific as Amir, brooding and and sadly affecting as he tries to erase his background in order to advance in his job.

Pratt, a familiar San Diego actor with many Broadway credits, is charming as Emily, the artist who has found refuge and artistic inspiration in the Islamic tradition her husband has rejected so loudly.

Gaffney, also a fine local actor, gives yet another excellent portrayal as Amir’s colleague Jory.

Baird, founder of New Fortune Theatre, brings experience and definition to his portrayal of Isaac (he plays Isaac for the second time). Milles brings youth and enthusiasm to the young Muslim Abe.

Anastasia Pautova’s costumes, Brian Gale’s lighting and Kevin Anthenill’s sound make major contributions to San Diego Rep’s terrific production of what has rightly become the most-produced play of the 2016/17 season. It’s a winner. Don’t miss it.

The details

“Disgraced” plays through November 13, 2016 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or www.sdrep.org