Notes on Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced [revised]

In a way, Ayad Akhtar’s play Disgraced is about a war of personalities with a twist: it takes place within one man, a Pakistani-American lawyer named Amir, whose careful remaking of himself comes undone as the play progresses. What appears to be a domestic drama—it takes place largely among Amir, his wife, and two friends in the course of a single dinner party—proves to be instead, or also, a drama of identity. Though it addresses topical concerns about cultural and religious loyalties, Disgraced also speaks to America’s endless fascination with people who “reinvent” themselves.

Disgraced at LCT3

Karen Pittman, Erik Jensen, Heidi Armbruster, & Aasif Mandvi in the LCT3 production (photo by Erin Baiano)

The play premiered early in 2012 at Chicago’s American Theater Company and played later that year in New York, at Lincoln Center’s LCT3, where I saw it. It’s now running at New York’s Lyceum Theatre. I felt that Disgraced benefited greatly from being seen in a small space, just as Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth does, and in both cases I can’t help wondering whether the greater exposure the play receives in a Broadway house comes at the cost of some impact. But this may be merely my own past staking a claim, as Amir’s does; most of my theater training and experience came in small spaces. In any case, it’s hard to complain when a serious-minded play appears on Broadway.

On Thursday night, PBS Newshour carried a brief but thoughtful segment about Akhtar and Disgraced, which you can find here. Alexis Soloski wrote an excellent piece about the author and his work for The New York Times in September 2012; it’s available here.

[This is a revision of a shorter post from 10/31/14.]

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