If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“Disgraced” Stuns as Long Wharf Opener

Pity any play that has the misfortune to open after the current Long Wharf Theatre offering. The New Haven theatre has debuted its 51st season with one of their strongest plays ever and it’s going to be an opener that is hard to top. The play is Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” and it is a powerhouse.

A co-production with the Huntington Theatre Company and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, “Disgraced”, examines questions of identity and assimilation through the fragile marriage between Muslim-American Amir (Rajesh Bose) and his beautiful blond wife, Emily (Nicole Lowrance, perfect). Amir has worked tirelessly over the years for an upscale law firm run by Jews. He has paid his dues and is expecting a promotion but is also making plans with his African-American co-worker, Jory (Shirine Babb), to branch out on his own. Meanwhile, Emily is enjoying a promising art career using the subject of Islam in several of her paintings. Her Jewish friend, Isaac (Benim Foster), who is also Jory’s husband, runs a gallery and has encouraged her along the way. When these four friends meet over dinner to celebrate some good news, the unsaid is finally said, betrayals are discovered and blood is in the water. Literally.

Directed with an expert sense of time and place by Gordon Edelstein and coming in at a brisk and breathless 90 minutes (without intermission), the play carefully reveals layers and layers of tension and discovery. With a brilliant company of actors including Mohit Gautam as Amir’s troubled nephew, Akhtar’s riveting drama gets a polished production that keeps its audience riveted. The entire cast shines but Lowrance’s complicated Emily may glow even brighter. She is no more effective than in her many silent scenes when she is simply observing the slow chaos taking over her dinner party. It’s a mesmerizing performance. Bose’s growing resentment and slow burn to violence is thoroughly believable and Foster, recreating his Broadway performance, matches him scene for scene in their dynamic confrontation late in the play.

The play, itself, can be faulted for its almost too-neat series of plot contrivances that bring these four people together, but ultimately the drama is so timely, powerful and moving that this remains a minor quibble. Designer Lee Savage’s upscale Manhattan apartment setting is pristine with telling furnishings and artwork and Ilona Somogyi’s cotemporary costumes get all the details right from Amir’s crisp shirts to Emily’s chic uptown wardrobe. Rick Sordelet’s invaluable contribution as fight director makes the climax of “Disgraced” just as potent as it needs to be. Bravos all around.

“Disgraced” continues at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre through November 8. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

 


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