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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

I like to believe that some part of you believes what you're saying. — Emily

Chester Theatre Company’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced has successfully transplanted this powerful Pulitzer Prize winning play into its intimate setting with stunning results. As this play has been reviewed several times before, including its off-Broadway premiere and Broadway transfer (see links: Off-Broadway premiere. . . Broadway production), it should be sufficient to say that the Chester production has lost none of the dramatic intensity of its previous incarnations.
In 90 minutes this play covers so much territory so effectively, that the audience is literally stunned into silence as the lights go down on the catastrophic climax.

Each of the four characters is a mouthpiece for a certain atavistic viewpoint or racial prejudice. They face off at the dinner table of an upper East side apartment that screams of tastefully controlled elegance in a set designed by Juliana von Haubrich. Against this posh veneer of class and high-powered social climbing, the actors, stimulated by way too much liquor and hidden simmering resentments, confront each other and while doing so reveal their own animal-like impulses.

We are moved in a matter of minutes from a modern day collection of well-educated. New York sophisticates to a battle of warring chimpanzees protecting their turf and mates. Hurling epithets of racial and cultural bigotry, tribal rules and taboos reassert their power over Charvet shirts, Magnolia cupcakes and Whitney art openings.

WAM's artistic director and founder Kristen van Ginhoven's tight direction moves the play to its gripping denouement with heart-stirring dynamism. Her energy pushes the actors to run over the cliff pursued by human foibles without a pause of self-consciousness.

J. Paul Nicholas as Amir percolates with ambition and wariness that belies his comfortable home and high-powered job. Though he speaks fluent legal jargon and evinces a cautious lawyer's approach to all situations, when his world is rocked, all of his training and self-control are swept away with shocking results. His final moment of self-realization is electrifying.

Kim Stauffer's Emily is the ethereal blond wife. An artist, she fails to see a world mired in division. References to her parents' disapproval of a former African-American boyfriend, her marriage to a lapsed Muslim Pakistani, her exploration of Islamic art blind her to certain realities of the world — even as she herself is capable of betrayal in order to achieve her goals. Stauffer's soulful and stricken Emily communicates the grief of a woman who has finally realized her culpability in her husband's and marriage's unravelling. Stauffer's finely nuanced physical and multi-leveled expressions telegraph her personal agony and tear into the audiences' psyches.

Christina Gordon's Jory is majestic as she strides across the room to enjoy dinner with her mentor and his wife with a box of dessert. She is a beautiful and accomplished professional hiding information about Amir's career trajectory versus her own. Gordon dispassionately tries to diffuse the enmity between her husband and Amir as hostilities build, with cool humor, only to explode in shock at a later revelation.

Amir's Jewish husband Isaac (Jonathan Albert,) a Whitney curator, is intrigued by Emily's exploration of the “sacred” in Islamic art. His intellectual objectivism incenses Amir and acts as the catalyst that will set off the fireworks of the night's dynamic denouement.

Abe/Hussein (Abuzar Farrukh,) Amir's impassioned young nephew, burns with the pull of the idealism and culture that Amir has rejected. His frustration with his uncle's refusal to connect with his Islamic roots creates the hell that will engulf Amir's world by the end of the play. Farrukh's Abe has two powerfully played scenes which assault the very core of Amir's being and are both heartfelt and unnerving.
Juliana von Haubrich's set and James McNamara's lighting combine to create the symbolic elements that ultimately divide the group. Costumes by Stella Schwartz define each character's persona and in some cases disguise their authentic selves. Tom Shread's sound design adds the subtle elements that underscore the cultural conflicts we witness.

The Chester Theatre Company under the artistic direction of Daniel Elihu Kramer continues to offer first rate productions of relevant and dynamic plays. Many talented artists from the Berkshire theatre community regularly contribute to its success. This is a production the satisfies the dramatic sensibility.

Editor's Note: Good plays often enjoy life well beyond their New York premieres. This is very much the case for plays that win a Pulitzer and the Chester Theater production is the latest of these we've covered. For more details about the play, below are links to Curtainup's review of the premiere off-Broadway production, and the Broadway transfer:

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Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Kristen van Ginhoven
Cast: Jonathan Albert (Isaac) Abuzar Farrukh (Abe) Christina Gordon (Jory) J. Paul Nicholas (Amir) Kim Stauffer (Emily)
Scenic Design: Juliana von Haubrich
Lighting Design: James McNamara
Costume Design: Stella Schwartz
Sound Design: Tom Shread
Stage Manager: Adele Taub
Running Time: 90 minutes; no intermission;
Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA From 7/5/18; closing 7/15/18
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 8 performance

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