By Trea Lavery, news correspondent
Not many people would ever admit to being proud of the terrorist attacks on September 11. But when those words of pride are uttered, they result in a shocked silence in the audience.
In a country plagued by growing Islamophobia and uncertainty regarding the threat of terrorism, Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced,” directed by Gordon Edelstein, was timely. Its production began two weeks before the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. The 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning drama shown at the Huntington Theatre Company is about Amir Kapoor, played by Rajesh Bose, a Muslim man from Pakistan and his wife Emily, played by Nicole Lowrance, who is a white artist inspired by Islam’s art techniques.
The plot centers around one night in which Amir and Emily invite their friend Isaac, a Jewish art curator played by Benim Foster, and his wife Jory, played by Shirine Babb, over for dinner. After Kapoor and Isaac have both had too much to drink, they begin arguing about their respective faiths and the stereotypes surrounding them. The conversation that follows is enough to leave the audience laughing at some moments and silent by the end.
Kapoor struggles with rejecting his Muslim faith and facing stereotypes as a Pakistani-American. He changes his last name and lies about his family origins to avoid discrimination. Amir’s assimilated nephew has concerns regarding the propriety of the arrest of a local imam who is imprisoned on terrorism-related charges. When Emily encourages Amir to appear in court in support of the imam, the image Kapoor has created for himself falls apart.
“Disgraced” uses its diverse set of characters to bring up topics that are often avoided in everyday conversation for fear of being offensive, such as Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, cultural appropriation, racism and job discrimination.
“It’s an important part of the national conversation because it features marginalized communities, people whose lives changed after 9/11,” Phaedra Scott, a literary apprentice at Huntington Theatre, said.
Mohit Gautam, who plays Abe, Amir and Emily’s nephew, agreed that the play was important in today’s society.
“It’s topical because it has to do with Islam and being a Muslim in America,” Gautam said. “It has to do with our political landscape and prejudices and desire to categorize people in different boxes.”
Scott led an audience talkback of the themes in the play after the curtains closed, in which people could express their thoughts about these messages. In the talkback, actors and spectators discussed elements of the story, the set and even parts of their own lives that connected to the plot.
In Gautam’s eyes, one of the play’s most important messages is not necessarily about Islam.
“These circumstances can happen to any group of people,” Gautam said. “People who are Jewish, African-American, Hispanic, Indian, Italian, Irish. It’s not just about Islam, not just about being a Muslim in America. It’s about being human and part of the American fabric.”
“Disgraced” is playing at Boston University Theatre from Jan. 8 to Feb. 7.
Photo courtesy The Huntington Theatre Company