The entire drama of Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” unfolds in a modern apartment belonging to Emily and Amir in New York’s Upper East Side. The decidedly domestic environment provides the ideal space for discussions on work, art, culture, religion – and yes, betrayal – to unfold in its most raw and relatable form.
Amir comes from a South-Asian Muslim background and has made a life for himself in New York City. He’s a successful lawyer, married to an American wife, and seemingly at home in a cosmopolitan Big Apple. Amir is played by SRT’s own director, Gaurav Kripalani.
Emily is Amir’s American wife, and an aspiring artist fascinated by Islamic art and culture. She is played by Chicago-native Jennifer Coombs in her Singapore Rep debut.
Isaac is a well-travelled and gregarious art curator weighing up Emily’s artwork for his gallery. He is married to Jory. Isaac is played by director, thespian, and movie actor Daniel Jenkins.
Jory is a straight-talker with a knack for one-liners that get to the heart of each situation. She works in the same firm as Amir. Jory is played by LaNisa Frederick, thespian, voiceover artist, and educator.
Abe is a young American Muslim seeking his identity in a post 9/11 reality. He looks up to his uncle Amir as a rolemodel. Abe is played by Malaysian actor Ghafir Akbar, a veteran of the stage in Singapore, Malaysia and the US.
These two couples of diverse backgrounds are the picture-perfect image of diversity and class. And things are looking up: Amir is looking forward to a law firm partnership and Emily is giddy at her artwork being displayed in Isaac’s gallery. But things quite don’t go as planned…
The play displayed superb acting with thespians slipping into their roles through nuanced body language and expressive dialogue. When you hear their tone and words you know exactly who’s feeling what; it’s like watching a novel unfold through drama. Whether it their warm and open hearts, or tight-fisted anger, the performers powerfully conveyed the best and worst of their characters.
The best acting came from Jennifer Coombs as her character Emily’s attitudes underwent the broadest metamorphosis in a believable way.
Ayad Akhtar’s novel-writing experience is clear in his skillful script, drawing together ideas on terrorism, race, religion, prejudice and colonialism into natural conversations between characters. Impressively self-reflective, the play even includes bias that the playwright might find embarrassing, thus ratcheting up the overall honesty (no spoilers!)
Throughout, the dialogue sparkled with wit, and where the occasion called for it, dove into the depths of human distrust, for a script that hit close to home and kept the audience engaged throughout. Without giving too much away, my favourite part was when the tension of the entire drama came to rest visibly on Amir’s shoulders in a final excellently-acted scene.
As hairline divisions gave way to gut-wrenching clashes, even in a setting as modern and globalised as New York, their significance became painfully obvious, reminding us of the same possibility in multicultural Singapore too.
“Disgraced” and its intelligent post-performance Q&A helped the audience engage more closely with the double-edged sword of diversity, showing the fundamental difference between merely defining the differences between us, and successfully bridging them.
By Vincent Tan