Sunday, April 24, 2016

Disgraced: Saturday, April 23 2016

Disgraced is a play written by Ayad Akhtar, that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. It was a huge success in Chicago, New York and London, England. It has this month been brought to premier in Toronto, and played at the Panasonic Theatre on Yonge Street at Charles Street. This year, it is the most produced play in the United States.

Invited to see it with two Jewish friends, I went along without knowing anything about it. My friends insisted it was a "must see". The play had been held over, and the theatre was packed for the matinee performance we attended. The stage was set as a sophisticated apartment in New York City, and the atmosphere was electric.

The acting was good, the production well directed, and the play well-written. Altogether, a highly professional production. The performance received a standing ovation from an enthusiastic audience of the Toronto intelligentsia.

The characters in the play were: Amir, an ex-Muslim Pakistani lawyer employed by a Jewish firm; married to Emily, a White Caucasian woman artist; Isaac, Emily's Jewish art dealer; married to Jory, a Black woman lawyer; and Abe, Amir's nephew. In other words, the author had chosen to write about a Muslim, a WASP, a Black, and a Jew. All are sophisticated, humanist, liberal, secular people, living in a modern, North American city that prides itself on its Progressive attitudes.

The action is a dinner party at Amir's which becomes exceedingly tense, not only for the dinner guests, but for the audience. The taboo subjects in polite society of religion and racial prejudice are given a thorough airing. The main subject dealt with demonstrated how difficult it is for a person from a completely different culture to fit into that of North America. There is always the pull between the two cultures. This is especially difficult for a Muslim such as Amir, as there can be great prejudice against followers of Islam, even among such seemingly open-minded people as Liberal Progressives. 

Amir has thrown off Islam, and calls the Qur'an "one long hate mail for humanity". He has changed his name to give the impression that he is a Hindu from India. In spite of this, he appears the object of bigotry against Muslims when he is disgraced.  His career and marriage are destroyed in one evening. He has rejected his origins as a Muslim from Pakistan, but finds this is not completely possible. Even as an apostate Muslim, he is still the object of unease and lack of trust.   

As it meant to, the play left me full of questions. What was the audience meant to feel about it? It left me feeling as uncomfortable as I would be, if I had attended such a dinner party. 
Ayad Akhtar

In my world, all the points raised have been discussed often, in an honest, open-minded way. Perhaps they are not so discussed in politically correct circles. If that is the case, it is good to open up questions around assimilation, and racial prejudice. The author seemed to be suggesting that people face reality, instead of hanging on to an impossible Progressive dream.

The audience gave the performance a standing ovation. I wondered what they were applauding. Was it the polished performance, or the statement the play is making? 

Had any of the audience tried to adopt a completely different culture? Had anyone made the effort to leave their North American attitudes behind and adopt, say, those of China or Russia? Or those of Iran or Saudi Arabia? Did they really understand the difficulties for a Muslim to join our society? Was that what they were applauding?

Afterwards there was a question and answer session. As usual, some people chose to express opinions not realising how boring this is for everyone else. Some questions were offered and answered satisfactorily. No questions of any depth were asked.

Altogether, an interesting experience! My friends were right. Disgraced is a "must see"!

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