Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Play: The Demolished Man

Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, directed by Kimberly Senior, Seattle Rep, Through 31 January.

While the Seahawks have ended their football hopes for the year, the REP continues with one of the strongest seasons I have seen for years. The most recent addition is the dark one-act Disgraced, which takes the theatrical trope of the dinner party and pulls it off.

Amir (Bernard White) is what Tom Wolfe would call a Master of the Universe. He is a corporate lawyer in Manhattan who can get Knicks tickets and whose name appears every so often in the Times. He has a stylish Manhattan apartment and an adoring wife Emily (Nisi Sturgis), an artist with a chance at a breakout show. That show is put together by Isaac (J Anthony Crane) whose wife Jory (Zakiya Young) works with Amir at the law firm. They have dinner together.

But Amir has misrepresented himself. He is an apostate Muslim who rejects his faith and heritage to embrace the American ideals of achievement. He has changed his name and lets his co-workers think of him as an Indian, not a Pakistani. He is convinced that, should he be thought of as a Muslim, his world will fall apart.

And he's right. Starting with a favor for his more devout and political nephew (Behzad Dabu), Amir's life spirals out of control, culminating in an explosive dinner party with Isaac and Jory where deeper secrets are revealed and lives are sabotaged.

The Portrait of Juan de Paleja by
Diego Velazquez figures in all this as well.
Amir's story is about race, religion, and heritage. But it is also about infidelity, social climbing, opportunities and art. The two sets of themes cannot be separated, and Akhtar does a fantastic job conjoining them. This is a troubling, unsettling play, and brilliant for it. Political without being polemic, it cricles the subjects and takes stabs from all sides. It is a play which does no hold still long enough to deliver a message one way or another and demands thought and consideration.

The actors are amazing. None of the characters are pure or innocent, all are packing their own betrayals and secrets which contribute to the destruction of Amir's public facade and private pride. The actors balance that public and private face expertly, creating characters with a sense of story and history.

There is mention of Moors early on, which evokes Othello, but this is an Othello with an internalized Iago acting towards his destruction. Amir has more in common with Eddie from A View from The Bridge, where his self-image, pride, and rejection of his heritage sows the seeds of his own fall from grace.

I have railed in this space about dinner-party plays, which take place in a relatively compact space and time and where everyone is nice and proper at the beginning and engaging in cannibalism by the end. And I often think that thing swould be better is someone just left the room, but that never happens. Akhtar stretches out the time frame with several scenes leading to the disastrous dinner, and DOES allow the character the freedom to get out of the room as opposed to immediately turning back on each other in another round of backbiting. In doing so he deepens the reality of the world, allows secrets to come out, and show that the characters are not just rats in a physical box, though they may be trapped in a metaphorical box of their own making.

I'm still working my way through this, which is always a good sign for a play. The play has gotten raves and rightly slow as disturbing and thoughtful theatre. Worth seeing.

More later,