When my hotsy-totsy Manhattan friends were bragging about “Disgraced” in 2013, it was featured on my favorite (and almost only) TV show, “Sunday Morning With Charles Osgood.” So I was ready to see it locally — or was I?
Knowing that the plot was woven around Pulitzer Prize-winning Muslim playwright Ayad Akhtar’s ambitious script, for which he has been criticized by Jews and Muslims, we were catapulted along a roller-coaster ride of surprises.
Many — some say too many — controversies are aired and cleverly written. The plot centers on Amir (dazzlingly played by Andrew Guilarte), an ambitious corporate lawyer in a Jewish firm who attempts to mask his ethnic identity.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewer Wendell Brock gave the play an A-minus grade and wrote: “ ‘Disgraced’ crystallizes the fraught nature of the day. We see terror lurking at every corner. But deep down in our souls, we know the enemy is within us.”
Almost Donald Trumpian, did you ever wonder whether Americanized “friendly” Muslims privately cheered at 9/11, thinking that America got what it deserved? Do Israelis cheer when an Arab outpost is destroyed? (Of course, nothing is comparable to 9/11, but you get the drift.)
Each actor carries his own weight. Of special note is local Jewish star Andrew Benator, who plays Isaac, the Jewish art curator married to an African-American lawyer. When asked about his experience in “Disgraced,” he said: “It’s been thrilling. The play dives head-first into sensitive topics in an incredibly smart and articulate way, and the characters’ positions are nuanced and complicated. It offers no easy answers because there are none. It’s a rare piece of writing of the kind that actors dream of getting to play.”
Audience member Jim Bauer said: “ ‘Disgraced’ seemed confrontational from beginning to end. The moral could be that one might refrain from saying what another does not need to hear.”
“ ‘Disgraced’ played billiards with my brain,” Jim Watt said. “Two religions, two races, two genders explode in the melting pot called America — more specifically, Manhattan condos. Ayad Akhtar’s play was both powerful as well as cliché. ‘Disgraced’ will leave you disturbed about who we are. Are we the adults we believe we’ve grown to be, or are we really just the children we once were? Go see it. You will talk about it for weeks to come, and that’s what good theater is about.”
“I found the play to be very intense and well acted. However, I left very disturbed with the notion that our faiths may always be at odds over Israel,” Susan Shapiro said.
In a session sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, playwright Akhtar said, “Go see the play with someone with whom you like to argue.”
He said some traditionally dressed Muslim women came to see the play and sat on the front row. They later approached him to say that they came to understand how not to rear their children to be like him.
The acting, the chic set, the costuming and the arrows slung are all worth 90 minutes without an intermission — like carrying 20 pounds of flour in a 10-pound sack.
Where: Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St., Midtown
When: Through Sunday, Feb. 14
Tickets: $20 to $68; www.alliancetheatre.org/disgraced or 404-733-5000