Friday, February 12, 2016

New York Review: DISGRACED

New York Review: DISGRACED



By Toby Znman

For the Inquirer

“And now, reporting live from Lincoln Center, Aasif Mandvi,”  starring in the powerful new play, Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar. Exhausting to watch, despite its 85 minute running time, this intense drama gives Mandvi, whom most of us know as a very funny guy on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, a role to sink his teeth into, a role that is anything but funny.

Mandvi plays Amir, a rich, ambitious corporate lawyer ($600 shirts with “a ridiculous thread count”), married to Emily (Heidi Armbruster), a pale white blonde who is an artist. They function for each other as trophy spouses: he has his beautiful WASP wife, she has her “own personal moor.” (Othello, anyone?)  

He has rejected his Muslim upbringing (“the Koran is one long hate mail to humanity”) and changed his name to imply to his Jewish bosses) that he is Indian rather than Pakistani.  She is enthralled by the art of Islam, leading to a naïve set of assumptions about the Muslim world; this influences her paintings and leads to a major success in the post 9/11 New York art world.

The old advice about avoiding religion and politics at the dinner table proves itself right again. A dinner party --a fairly cliché setup—is the central of the play’s four scenes (and it’s no accident that she’s serving pork tenderloin). The guests are Isaac (Erik Jensen), a rumpled Jewish intellectual who is a curator at the Whitney; Isaac’s wife, Jory (Karen Pittman) is an ultra-sophisticated African-American lawyer from Amir’s firm. More trophies.  Their betrayals of their marriages will prove in small what Amir’s betrayal of himself proves in large: people revert, horrifyingly, to tribal loyalties, and that the complexities of identity are both never and always skin deep.

Complicating the religious politics is Amir’s young nephew,  (Omar Muskati) who is floundering, both religiously and politically. There is an arrested Imam.  There is the C.I.A. An extraordinary number of crucial problems are folded into this brief play.

Most intriguing of these troubling and vivid complications is the painting that bookends Disgraced’s action;  Scene One opens with the comic image of Amir standing in shirt, tie, jacket, without his pants, posing for Emily’s adaptation of Velazquez’s famous portrait, Juan de Pareja, a “moor.” The play ends with the tragic image of Amir staring at this painting as if it holds the secret to his catastrophic downfall.  

The production is directed with sleek and insidious charm by Kimberly Senior.


Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center, 66th & Columbus Ave. Tickets $20 (note this amazing bargain: LCT’s pricing policy, a way reach  “younger and more ethnically diverse audiences.”)  Extended through Dec.23.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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