Sharp and provocative
|Goodman Theatre presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
When it comes to race and culture, certain things can’t be unseen, undone or unsaid. Often, the most innocuous-seeming comment will open an emotional floodgate that can have life-changing, sometimes dangerous, consequences. After a successful run on Broadway, Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced is back in its premiere city of Chicago, and not a moment too soon. The play embodies the phrase “necessary roughness”: it’s hard to watch but essential, and Goodman Theatre’s sharp and provocative production hits all the right notes.
Amir Kapoor (Bernard White) is on the partnership track at his Manhattan law firm, and is married to successful visual artist Emily Hughes (Nisi Sturgis). All’s well in his life – minus a few hiccups – on the night of a dinner party at Amir and Emily’s apartment. Their guests are similarly accomplished couple Isaac (J. Anthony Crane), a Jewish art curator and colleague of Emily’s, and Isaac’s African-American wife Jory (Zakiya Young), who practices alongside Amir at the firm. Pre-dinner conversation is easy and pleasant, but soon descends into tension regarding race, culture and religion. Meanwhile, Amir’s young nephew Abe (Behzad Dabu) is struggling with his own identity as a Muslim and American.
Shocking and smart, Disgraced has a compelling and cutting script. Not one second of the 85-minute running time goes to waste, thanks to Ayad Akhtar’s stellar writing and Kimberly Senior’s tightly-paced direction. Both writer and director masterfully monitor rising and falling tension, inserting humorous words and moments at just the right times, and opting for genuine shock over shock value. It’s astounding how perfectly Senior interprets the text, making the already-strong source material even mightier.
Phenomenal production values supplement the story in unique and surprising ways. Most notable is Christine A. Binder’s lighting design, which seamlessly transitions from day to night to day again, smoothly and subtly transitioning through time. Set designer John Lee Beatty flawlessly channels upwardly mobile Manhattan yuppiedom in his depiction of Amir and Emily’s apartment. Every detail is realistic and enviable, the stunning details not quite masking the marriage’s brewing tension. Though the costumes are simple – two- and three-piece suits, dinner party dresses, denim – Jennifer von Mayrhauser ably conveys the characters’ personalities, their preferences for high thread counts and higher heels, their quests for power and position coming through in every hemline and button.
While White’s performance occasionally verges on over-the-top, his Amir is overall a fascinating embodiment of an identity crisis. Sturgis is well-cast as Emily, the idealistic Caucasian painter: her knowledge of race and culture mixed with the privilege she’s enjoyed her entire life. Crane and Young are utterly believable as a long-married couple, a match of intelligence and wit, with the subtle looks, inside jokes and snark common to those who have an intimate knowledge of one another. When secrets are revealed, feelings confessed and battles fought, the cast’s crackling energy carries through to the back row of the Albert.
Akhtar’s Pulitzer-Prize winning script bears some similarities to fellow Prize winner Clybourne Park. Both raise the tough questions usually left unsaid in favor of domestic bliss and camaraderie. Both are darkly satirical, at times disturbing, but ultimately necessary dialogues on the most difficult of topics. While Disgraced isn’t quite as polished or empathetic as Clybourne Park, the former holds its own and, not surprisingly, will be the most-produced play in America during the 2015-16 theater season. Deeply intellectual and appropriately troubling, Disgraced accurately reflects the tense division of loyalties in modern society.
Disgraced continues through October 25th at The Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn(map), with performances Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays 2pm and 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $25-$82, and are available by phone (312-433-3800) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GoodmanTheatre.org. (Running time: 85 minutes without intermission)
Photos by Liz Lauren
J. Anthony Crane (Isaac), Behzad Dabu (Abe), Nisi Sturgis (Emily), Bernard White (Amir), Zakiya Young (Jory), Jennifer Coombs (u/s Emily), Tania Richard (u/s Jory), Amro Salama (u/s Amir), Adarsh Shah (u/s Abe), Dan Stearns (u/s Isaac)
behind the scenes
Kimberly Senior (director), John Lee Beatty (set design), Jennifer von Mayrhauser (costume design), Christine A. Binder (lighting design), Jill BC Duboff (sound design), David Caparelliotis, CSA (New York casting), Adam Belcuore, CSA and Erica Sartini-Combs (casting), Jonathan L. Green (dramaturg), Joseph Drummond (production stage manager), Briana J. Fahey (stage manager), Nate Silver (associate director), Unkle Dave’s Fight-House (fight direction), Kacie Hultgren (associate set designer), Joshua Benghiat (associate lighting design), J. Anthony Crane (fight captain), Liz Lauren (photos)