Photo by Daren Scott
Ronobir Lahiri (left) and Richard Baird in Disgraced
That was intense!” one theater-goer exhaled, moments after the lights went up at the conclusion of the San Diego Rep’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced. Point well taken. Akhtar’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning one-act is inflated with tension to the point of bursting. Its combative characters, flexing ego and righteousness, go from vitriol to volatility over the course of one fateful dinner party. While the audible gasping from certain audience members on opening night was annoying, it’s fair to say that Disgraced is a play that you can’t help but get involved in.
The story’s focal character is Amir (Ronobir Lahiri), a Pakistan-born New York attorney with all the trappings of corporate success (Upper East Side dream flat, gorgeous artist wife, $600 dress shirts). But he’s a man deeply conflicted about his Muslim identity. More than once he’s justifiably called out for being “self-loathing.” His wife Emily (Allison Spratt Pearce) has gone earnestly overboard embracing Islam because it is at the core of her newly discovered artistic ethos. This has intrigued (on more than one level, it turns out) the self-loving art curator Isaac (Richard Baird), a Jew, who happens to be married to an African-American associate (Monique Gaffney) at Amir’s law firm.
About a third of the way through the 90-minute play directed by Michael Arabian, the “festivities” at Amir and Emily’s apartment begin. That’s when Disgraced, already simmering in polemics, heats up. Charges of ignorance, hypocrisy, bigotry and hatred explode. Epithets and even saliva fly. Loaded confidences more personal than political are exposed.
What might have been chaotic is, in Akhtar’s intelligent and human script, bitingly thoughtful drama. Each character has his or her flaws. A self-described “cultural Muslim” himself, Akhtar does not take sides or preach an agenda. The one miscalculation may be the subplot featuring M. Keala Milles Jr. as Amir’s eventually radicalized nephew. Intended to exacerbate Amir’s inner conflict, it feels wedged in.
Disgraced is one of the most often produced plays in the U.S. Possessed as it is of currency, insight and shock value, that’s understandable.
Disgraced runs through Nov. 13 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, downtown. $38-$64. sdrep.org
A Chorus Line: The classic musical about a group of gypsies who audition for a Broadway show. Directed by Thomas Fitzpatrick, it opens Nov. 4 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com Julius Caesar: Shakespeare’s classic about the Roman general and politician whose celebrity was seen by many as a threat to the Republic. Directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, it opens Nov. 4 at the SDSU Experimental Theatre in the College Area.
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Now in its 19th year, this holiday classic tells the musical tale of a green grump who plans to ruin the holidays for the town of Whoville. Directed by James Vásquez, it opens Nov. 5 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
After Orlando: An evening of short plays and readings in response to the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Presented by Missing Bolt Productions Inc. and NoPassport Theatre Alliance and Press, it happens Nov. 7 at the Lyceum Space in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org
Native Son: Adapted from Richard Wright’s classic novel, this play tells the story of a young black man’s struggles in ‘30s Chicago. Written by Nambi E. Kelley, it opens Nov. 7 at the UCSD Potiker Theatre in La Jolla. theatre.ucsd.edu
ART : Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning comedy about three pals whose friendship is tested when one buys an expensive piece of modern art. Presented by Intrepid Theatre Company, it runs through Nov. 6 at the Horton Grand Theatre in the Gaslamp. intrepidtheatre.org
Seven Guitars : Set in ’40s Pittsburgh, this comical mystery centers on a blues guitarist who dies just as his career is about to take off. Written by August Wilson and presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 6 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
King Hedley II : A man recently released from prison struggles to reclaim his life, family and community. Written by August Wilson and presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 6 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Baby with the Bathwater : Playwright Christopher Durang explores the pitfalls and hilarity of first-time parenthood in this relatable comedy. Presented by Oceanside Theater Company, it runs through Nov. 13 at the Brooks Theatre in Oceanside. oceansidetheatre.org
The Cocktail Hour : An affluent New England family’s reunion is hilariously shaken up when one of the sons reveals he’s written a script that hits a little too close to home. Directed by Randall Hickman, it runs through Nov. 13 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.biz
Disgraced : Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-winning drama about a Muslim man who hosts a dinner party for his African-American co-worker and her Jewish husband, only to have the dinner go horribly wrong. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Nov. 13 at the Lyceum Stage in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org
Laughter on the 23rd Floor : Neil Simon’s comedy about his early days in live television working with the likes of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. Directed by Tom Markus, it runs through Nov. 13 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
God of Carnage : In Yasmina Reza’s comedy, two sets of parents tussle after their kids get into a playground fight. Directed by Jessica Bird, it runs through Nov. 13 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
November : David Mamet’s biting political comedy is about an inept, outgoing U.S. president who has put the office up for sale. Directed by Steve Murdock, it runs through Nov. 19 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.info
Bad Seed : Maxwell Anderson’s thriller about a little girl who may have a dark side. Directed by Kristen Fogle, it runs through Nov. 20 at Lamplighter’s Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
Equivocation : A playwright named “Shagspeare” is forcibly commissioned by the King to write the definitive history of the Gunpowder Plot in Bill Cain’s acclaimed who-done-it. Directed by Deborah Gilmour Smyth, it runs through Nov. 20 at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Miss You Like Hell : In this world premiere musical, a teenage girl sets out on a road trip with her free-spirited Latina mother. Written by Erin McKeown, it runs through Dec. 4 at the La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org