Monday, November 16, 2015

reviews - DISGRACED - Arizona Theatre Company

Elijah Alexander, Allison Jean White, Richard Baird and Nicole Lewis
Photo by Tim Fuller
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through November 29th.

"In the telling, it could well sound like the trappings of a joke, and that’s possibly what 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner Ayad Akhtar was intending.  In the riveting new play Disgraced, fresh from its Broadway and London engagements, a WASP, a Jew, an ex-Muslin, and an African-American woman have dinner.  What follows is something unexpectedly volatile.  One of the characters makes a jaw-dropping admission, and from that point, nothing between any of them will ever be the same....Disgraced moves full steam ahead in four scenes, plowing through the kind of themes and subjects one should never discuss in good company, namely religion and politics, though more specifically Islamophobia, Muslin-Americans and a crisis of religious and cultural identity.
...Up and coming corporate lawyer Amir Kapoor (Elijah Alexander) and his equally up and coming artist wife Emily (Allison Jean White) will be hosting a dinner party later in the fall, but that’s a few months away.  The play’s first two scenes concentrate on setting up future conflicts, events that are mentioned more in conversational passing that seem largely inconsequential, except they’re not.  They’re the kind of actions that will later ignite something disastrously explosive from which there is no survival, particularly for Amir....The power in Akthar’s writing, his first stage play, is in the discovery of hidden feelings and the exploration of racial profiling, the submission to assimilation for career survival, and ultimately the consequences of suppressed honesty, something ingrained that can never be entirely concealed.  It’s not just what Amir says, it’s something he does, and you can’t be anything but shocked at the incendiary action he takes....Director David Ira Goldstein skillfully handles the lengthy dinner party in way where every line uttered and each action taken comes at us like an edge-of-your-seat thriller.  It’s spellbinding, concluding in such an unexpected manner you may find yourself questioning whether you truly accept that such an educated and upwardly mobile character such as Amir would say and do what he says and does....All five performers are cast well, each flawlessly representing their type in a way we assume the author intended us to view them, but it’s Alexander’s portrayal of the conflicted Amir that stands out...Not everyone will like Disgraced.  It’s the kind of play that those with a working affiliation for the theatre as both an industry and an art-form will admire for its performances and narrative construction more than someone with simply a passing interest in theatrical entertainment...I doubt whether any audience member at the Phoenix Herberger Centre opening performance of Disgraced was unaware of the horrific circumstances that occurred in Paris prior to the weekend...like Amir’s action at the dinner party, you may potentially view the event in a way you never before considered.  Such is the power of Disgraced, and more importantly, such is the relevancy of great theatre." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"It isn't often that world events explicitly impact the timing of a theatre production, but that happened this weekend with the opening of Arizona Theatre Company's production of Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced. Opening the night after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the topic of Akhtar's 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play, in its Arizona premiere at ATC, had even more relevance since the play deals with the preconceived notions that many have of Muslims being tied to terrorism. While ISIS isn't specifically mentioned in the piece, the threat of the next major terrorist attack is, along with how the misunderstanding of the Islamic religion is being used to spread incorrect facts. But Muslims aren't the only ones on the hot seat as Akhtar also interweaves the play with the racial and ethnic prejudices that many believe. Akhtar's play is an exceptionally well crafted and explosive expose of the beliefs that many people harbor, concerning religion and politics, but don't often speak out loud, and this production has a firecracker cast, smart direction, and superb creative aspects, resulting in a not to be missed event.....Akhtar's dialogue is smart, with realistic characters and truthful relationships, and the entire play is engaging. While a couple of the plot points are slightly forced and the ending could be more focused, he does raise many valid questions. Can a person turn against the way he was raised and the beliefs he was taught by his family and his religion? Or do those thoughts never truly go away but continue to linger and gnaw away at the person?...Even the title of the play provokes questions. Are Amir and the other characters the ones who feel disgraced by their thoughts and the events that their beliefs provoke, or are we the ones who should feel disgraced by how the play makes us question the beliefs and feelings about others that we have tried to bury deep inside? ...Director David Ira Goldstein skillfully directs the production to keep the tension ever rising but also allowing Akhtar's many very funny moments to come through in a realistic manner, while ensuring that the serious topics that arise never take a back seat. He also has cast the play with an exceptional group of actors, all able to portray their characters and the relationships they have with each other realistically. ...Disgraced is a humorous and harrowing, smart and brutal drama that is ultimately about how no one and nothing is quite what it seems. But it also shows that when confronted, the truth of what people believe comes out and we clearly see how they really feel. Arizona Theatre Company's production of this Pulitzer Price winning play is exceptionally well cast, designed, and directed and results in great theater with plenty of food for thought."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"...Arizona Theatre Company ..smashing production of the recent Broadway hit “Disgraced” and Arizona Opera.... a wild ride as characters evolve, develop, and change with split-second dialogue revelations about their biases and beliefs.  This masterful script that starts with amusing antidotes and grows into a disturbing exploration of personality quirks and inconsistencies that reveals how little you really know about people you think you understand is why Ayad Akhtar’s play won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama....The lively discussion about racial injustice turns and twists in strange and unexpected ways as it reveals very private feelings about what people think is right and wrong and how preconceived expectations of people can be seriously flawed.  The dialogue is revealingly vibrant as it shifts from initially amusing to shockingly real as truths emerge. The ATC production is directed with suave style and brilliant pacing by David Ira Goldstein as his flawless staging provides the perfect emphasis for the play’s multitude of revelatory nuances.  Five superb actors provide extraordinary character development as each persons’ quirks and flaws develop with sublimely clever subtleties.... “Disgraced” is a fine play and the ATC production couldn’t be better." --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) last night lay bare an exquisite rendering of Ayad Akhtar's 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play, "Disgraced."...is about race and religion and gender equity between Muslims and Blacks and Jews and Caucasians--Americans all. It is about the equal potential for both art and greed to shape us. It is about how marriage and family connect and define us. The only way to make such huge themes meaningful, as Akhtar's script so provocatively demonstrated, was through characters who own and communicate their most intimate and protected stories, who allow us to share their vulnerability.  "Disgraced" was the kind of play that continues to live inside the viewer after the curtain closes. ...The creative team led by director Ira Goldstein achieved metaphorical perfection in the set design, a crisp flat of towering, angular white full of mirrors and windows....With constant loaded phrases, reality poked and prodded relentlessly at picturesque, cultural ideals throughout the entire "Disgraced" production. How do those ideals really shape us in daily interaction, on personal terms?...Influenced by heritage and experience, our individual shortcomings are always present--as Akhtar's haunting drama made clear. We cannot outrun the darkness in our personal or cultural pasts. Should we choose to remove the elegant beauty--the grace--that our hearts can so capably unearth and discover, be aware. In the absence of honor and mercy (qualities we each are at liberty to uphold or disregard), the resulting stripped-bare, imperfect humans will forever be nothing more than Disgraced." -Jennifer Haaland, Examiner.com (click here to read the complete review)

"...For a play set in a living room with a dinner party as its centerpiece, Akhtar’s fearless script carries an incredible emotional and intellectual heft. And in a Phoenix-premiere production by Arizona Theatre Company, a powerhouse cast, led by Elijah Alexander as Amir, brings “Disgraced” to life with convincing edge-of-your-seat tension that builds relentlessly to a devastating climax.
...Akhtar takes care to make all of his characters individuals, with a complex web of relationships, and not just stand-ins for social groups.  Of course, it takes great acting to pull that off, and this cast, under director David Ira Goldstein, delivers, expertly orchestrating a slow-motion car crash of a drama that is impossible to look away from....What you get out of “Disgraced” may depend on what you bring to it, and that is why “Disgraced” has been controversial and why Akhtar has been accused of being anti-Muslim. This is a play that doesn’t ask you to set aside your fears and prejudices, it asks you to unpack them and engage with them. It’s a tall order. But with the smell of fresh terror lingering in the cultural air — and with all the anger and backlash that inevitably follow — it is imperative that we all rise to the occasion."Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"Ayad Akhtar is a celebrated actor, author, and playwright..., DISGRACED, which won Akhtar the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, treads into a quicksand from which there is neither recovery, redemption, or revelation. There is only the sound and the fury of a soul adrift in the arid land of self-loathing and his irresistible pull toward tragedy. As explosive as its onstage fireworks and confessions are ~ and there is definitely no shortage of intensity in this play ~ DISGRACED ultimately falls flat, unsatisfying, and almost objectionable like an expired bromide ~ pop pop fizz fizz but no relief....Regrettably, like a lot of political theatre, it swarms with superficiality ~ just enough to get the juices flowing but not enough to generate enlightenment....If there is anything stellar about this production, it is John Ezell's magnificent set. As if it were pulled from the pages of Architectural Digest, the room screams success....For all its moments of intensity, DISGRACED comes off as a formulaic compound of annoying and sophomoric shibboleths and of deceits that litter the stage like a bad joke about a WASP, A Jew, a Black, and a Muslim walking into a bar ~ all sound and fury resembling unimaginative and contrived scenes from a TV soap opera....The problem is that, while the play travels the trail of these profound themes, it falls into the sand trap of triteness which is the inevitable shortfall of political theatre. Yes, the play has intensity. Yes, for the most part, it is well acted. However, we've seen this tale before and far better realized. ..." -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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