Chicago Theatre Review
Disgraced – Goodman Theatre
A recent Tony Award nominee for Best Play, Ayad Akhtar won both the Obie Award and the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, not to mention the 2012 Jeff Award for New Works. Of Mr. Akhtar’s many plays and novels, this is the work that put his name of the lips of audiences and drama critics, in both New York and Chicago. It bristles with tension and a sense that something personal and tragic is about to be unleashed.
In this 80-minute one-act, Akhtar succinctly presents an unspoken drama of concerns and suspicions, a backstory behind the headlines of major newspaper articles. In an America where, since the horrific events of 9/11, citizens have become wary and skeptical of anyone who looks the slightest bit Middle Eastern, we have a volatile story about five people. Each member of two Upper East Side Manhattan couples is comprised of individuals from four very different walks of life. Amir is an American-born Pakistani who’s turned his back on his Muslim upbringing, for the sake of his law career. His caucasian wife, Emily, is a promising artist who has been focusing primarily on Islamic influences and themes in her work.
They’ve invited Jory, Amir’s African American law associate, and Isaac, her Jewish art dealer husband, to their plush apartment for a dinner to celebrate Emily’s recent success. Isaac has selected Emily’s paintings to be a part of an upcoming art show, a move that promises to catapult her to fame. Before this dinner party, Abe, Amir’s young assimilated nephew has enlisted Emily’s support. Together they’ve persuaded Amir to meet with a man imprisoned for possibly financing terrorist groups. The repercussions of this and other incidents from the past all come crashing down upon these five individuals during the gathering. Bitter resentments surface, hidden accusations are expressed and words are exchanged that broil into an explosive climax that audiences won’t see coming.
This cast is led by the talented and sensitive director, Kimberly Senior, who also directed Akhtar’s prize-winning play in Chicago, at Lincoln Center and on Broadway. She truly understands the piece and it can be said that this stellar production at the Goodman is a culmination of a longtime collaboration between playwright and director. John Lee Beatty’s gorgeous scenic design, that changes as the months pass, paired with Christine A. Binder’s magnificent, subtle lighting (notice how skillfully she paints the shifting of time with illumination) are stupendous. Jill BC Duboff has painted the NYC scene in her sound design that’s also understated, yet potent.
Once again, this company has cast a terrific ensemble of actors to tell this story. All but one actor make their Goodman debut. Bernard White is smooth and sophisticated, yet harbors an underlying tension in his portrayal of Amir. As the audience watches Mr. White throughout each scene, he gradually develops into the seething husband and lawyer who must ultimately return to his forgotten religion to address the chaos in his life. Nisi Sturgis is the picture of the gentle, understanding wife. She’s also a struggling professional artist and the one person trying to bring understanding and calm to every situation. This actress is sensational and, perhaps, the audience’s surrogate for this play. J. Anthony Crane, with many Chicago credits, is warm and charismatic as Isaac. Yet, eventually, when the tide turns, we see buried beneath the man, his real agenda. Zakiya Young is cultured and cosmopolitan as Jory. She’s quite believable as a lawyer and those little jabs she gives Isaac are delivered with the right amount of humor. Behzad Dabu, the only actor who’s appeared before on the Goodman stage, is sensational as Abe, the young nephew who has changed his name from Hussein, so as to sound more American. He delivers a passion and power in this role that has developed over his career, beginning at Adventure Stage and TimeLine Theatre. This is a young actor to watch.
Written by a man who fully understands the feelings and situations in this play, Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama begins as an interesting domestic play, but slyly evolves into a volcano of violence and emotion that takes the audience by surprise. Directed by Kimberly Senior with feeling and authority, portrayed by a capable cast of talented actors and supported by a group of skilled behind-the-scene artists, this may be the best production of a play this Fall.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 20 -October 25 in the Albert Theatre by the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the Goodman box office, by calling 312-443-3800 or by going
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.