Disgraced, the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama written by Ayad Akhtar, is a powerful exploration of the politics of religion and the politics of identity, and their cross-sections in the ever-increasing complications of a post-9/11 American society. It is a tension that is almost universally experienced for those integrating into a society so different from their own. From anglicising names to lying about their background, the characters within Disgraced highlight some of the tensions that exist between cultural integration and a celebration of multiculturalism.
This struggle is best illustrated between corporate lawyer Amir Kapoor (Sachin Joah) and his nephew Abe/Hussain (Shiv Palekar), as they both take steps in distancing themselves from their religion with different results. For actor Palekar, his character suffers a “discomfort of being able to say that openly that his name is Hussain” that his character is required “to keep up a persona that is more accepted.”
Amir and his artist wife Emily (Geraldine Hakewill) lacked the chemistry to launch the play in the opening two scenes of the tightly woven play. The climax of the play, the dinner party scene, embodied the true aspirations of the writing. The addition of Jory (Paula Arundell) and Isaac (Glenn Hazeldine) increased the energy and chemistry lacking in the opening scenes. There was well-timed humour and drama, hitting well with the Canberra audience. With this scene, Akhtar has achieved the ultimate goal of bringing ideas naturally to an audience, rather than lecturing them.
Overall the acting was well done. Jory (Arundell) and Isaac (Hazeldine) were standouts with perfect pace, energy, and ferocity. Emily (Hakewill) was provided less range by the playwright with a character best described as a “Manic Pixie Chick,” but nonetheless excelled within the paradigms of the play’s characterisation. Amer (Joah) is a solid brooding type, carrying the important themes of the play along. Shiv Palekar provides a youthful exuberance to the play with his limited role as Abe/Hussain.
The reliance on violence as a plot device to comment on the nature of individual responsibility, however, was certainly the most polarising factor of the play. Though it was a powerful statement on the influence of religion and individuality, this reviewer found it slightly unnecessary and ill delivered.
STC’s new Resident Designer, Elizabeth Gadsby, has created a beautiful scene of an upper-class New York apartment, with overbearing windows, and white walls paired with intricate artwork. Gadsby has managed to beautifully combine a sense of clutter and cleanliness that physically represent the ceaseless conflicts within the play. Lighting designer, Damien Cooper, utilised the setting well with some incredible effects in the windows. The sound design (Steve Francis), however, fell short – with overwhelming transitional music that attempted to represent the “otherness” of Amer, it was bulky and mismatched.
The overall artistic direction provided by STC Director Sarah Goodes has provided access to themes and topics that are usually unspoken and inaccessible for audiences. She has brought light to an important play with an important discussion on organised religion, Islam, and the politics of identity.