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A CurtainUp DC Review
Amir's wife Emily is an "emerging" artist who incorporates Islamic religious shapes and symbols in her art. Isaac, a Jewish art curator, is in a position to get her a much-coveted show at a highly regarded gallery and Jory, his African-American wife, is another successful lawyer who happens to be in practice with Amir.
This setup reminds me of jokes that begin "when four (disparate types) walk into a bar .... " With these characters playwright Ahktar has his symbols, his representatives of various religions, ethnicities and professions in place for the fireworks that are to come.
Disgraced examines at close range the inevitability that one's background never goes away completely no matter how much a character might want it to disappear. As a Muslim in a Jewish law firm Amir does not want to rock the boat by defending an Iman his nephew Abe (Samip Raval) thinks has been unjustly imprisoned. Does Amir look out for his professional future or does he acknowledge his heritage, his relative? This is Amir's conundrum.
Nehal Joshi (Amir) seemed a bit hesitant at times so his transition from tough careerist to devoted uncle lacks some punch but the message comes through nonetheless. Ivy Vahanian as Amir's wife Emily, a blonde effete painter, is a believable hostess welcoming Isaac and Jory to her table for a meal that includes fennel (a nice jab at New Yorkers who are snobbish about "in" food) in their spacious, beautifully furnished New York apartment, — a terrific, "drop dead gorgeous" set by Tony Cisek.
When friends Isaac and Jory arrive for dinner. It does not go well.
The talk at table quickly gets serious as all four characters give their takes on Akhtar's themes about religion, particulary Islam, terrorism. He even throws infidelity into the mix — a somewhat gratuitous aside.
The conversation is brittle if not quite as serious or as deep as the playwright might wish. The ending lacks surprise. Joe Isenberg as Isaac is woefully miscast. Apart from having no trace of anything Jewish about him, his performance is weak. Felicia Curry's Jory is quite forceful and, at times, funny. She just might be the strongest of the quartet.
For arguments and serious differences of opinion to work well, all four characters really do need to have equal weight and that is where Arena's production falters. The conflicts are indeed real but this Disgraced is more entertaining than it is thought-provoking.