When: Through March 1
Where: Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues) New York, NY
Tickets: Starting at $37.50
Review by: Dianna Bell
“The Quran is like one big hate letter to humanity.” This line from playwright Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced is one example of many confusing, thought provoking, and slightly offensive ideas.
The 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning drama features Hari Dhillon (star of the London production) as Amir, a high-powered lawyer who has worked hard to erase his Pakistani roots and live out the American dream with his perfect blonde artist of a wife Emily, played by Gretchen Mol (Boardwalk Empire).
The cast is rounded out by Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) as art dealing Isaac; Karen Pittman, who reprises her role from the Lincoln Center production in 2012 to play Jory, Isaac’s lawyer wife; and Danny Ashok (also of the London production) who plays Amir’s nephew, Abe.
The audience is dropped into a beautiful Upper East Side apartment that is full of light and detail, but immediately something is off. When Mol begins delivering her first lines she sounds stilted and false, and the problem amplifies when the couple kisses. There is zero chemistry to be found here or anywhere in this cast.
Every interaction feels uneasy. Each actor seem to be in their own version of the play. Radnor comes off a little Ted Mosby-esque during his more pretentious lines about Emily’s work, “Ah yes. I can see this was inspired by a mosque.”
For Abe, his deliveries are never quite natural. Ashok is British and his way of masking his accent morphed into a constant stream of singsong dialogue. During one slightly heated argument with Amir, the possibility of an impromptu rap seemed imminent.
With the actors each interjecting their own spin, the message of Akhtar’s play is lost. Amir is a man who was raised to believe the strictest interpretation of the Quran infused with his mother’s bigotry and hate. Amir deserted his religion in order to avoid becoming the monster he fears, but when pushed to his mental limits, he reverts back to the teachings of his younger years – spitting on Jews, beating women and spewing racial epithets.
It’s in these moments – the spitting, yelling, hitting and swearing – when the cast comes together to form some simulation of a cohesive unit. But a play can’t sustain on anger alone.
Akhtar tackles many topics in Disgraced: the fetishization of religion, the polarizing elements of religion, as well as the idea of personal change. The trouble with these lofty ideas is that sometimes they float away, never landing long enough to have mattered.