THOUGHTS: Disgraced at Berkeley Rep

Dinner party - Disgraced

(l to r) Bernard White (Amir), Nisi Sturgis (Emily), Zakiya Young (Jory), and J. Anthony Crane (Isaac) in Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, an engrossing and combustible drama that probes the complexity of identity, at Berkeley Rep.
Photo credit: Liz Lauren

It seems Pakistani-American Amir Kapoor (Bernard White) is living the American Dream. He has an Upper East Side apartment complete with a balcony; a beautiful, blonde, artist wife Emily (Nisi Sturgis); and he is poised to make partner at his corporate law firm. But one New York Times story, and an explosive dinner party with his co-worker Jory (Zakiya Young) and her husband Isaac (J. Anthony Crane) threatens to shatter everything that he has worked for.

This is the third time I’ve seen Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play and Berkeley Rep’s is, by far, the best production. In the past, the dinner party has felt forced. The action to that point didn’t seem to warrant the tension that arises. But this production’s pacing was spot on. Under Kimberly Senior’s direction, the cast brings out subtleties in the script that I hadn’t noticed before. Awkward pauses accentuate casual racism. Everyone says terrible things that they probably wish they could take back. It feels more three-dimensional.

Amir, Emily, and Abe

(l to r) Bernard White (Amir), Nisi Sturgis (Emily), and Behzad Dabu (Abe) in Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced at Berkeley Rep.
Photo credit: Liz Lauren

The cast is full of strong actors, but Bernard White, in particular, does a phenomenal job portraying Amir’s struggle with his past and his family. From the opening scene, Amir is barely hanging onto the persona he has created for himself. Where Aasif Mandvi was warm and Hari Dhillon casually confident, White’s Amir Kapoor has an undercurrent of need and desperation.

Unfortunately, where the play is weak is still the script. There is no one to really counter Amir’s self-loathing. Once again, I wonder if this play really breaks new ground. Sure it tells a story we don’t generally see on stage, but it does so in a way that is comfortable for an American audience. Tribalism seems to be the theme here, but only Amir’s tribalism feels truly dangerous.

Reasons to Go:

  1. Rare opportunity to see cultural assimilation portrayed on stage
  2. Diversity on stage: four actors of color and two interracial marriages
  3. Conversation-starter
  4. Bernard White is fantastic

Who Should Go: Teens through adults 

Tips:

  1. There is no intermission
  2. Discussions will follow every performance
  3. Some shows have a Docent pre-talk
  4. Go with friends for interesting conversation afterwards

 Themes: Religion, assimilation, culture, immigration

Advisory: Some violence, which is upsetting and could be triggering

Show Information: Extended through December 27 at Berkeley Rep 

 

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