EMAV Review: Passionate 'Disgraced' is rich food for thought ★★★★★

★★★★★ - Irresistible

The regional premiere of Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar, is the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the fourth creative collaboration between Nevada Conservatory Theatre (NCT) and Cockroach Theatre since the 2013-14 season. “In dialogue that bristles with wit and intelligence, Mr. Akhtar, a novelist and screenwriter, puts contemporary attitudes toward religion under a microscope, revealing how tenuous self-image can be for people born into one way of being who have embraced another.” (Charles Isherwood, The New York Times)

It is important to note that the author and protagonist (Amir) share certain similarities: both are of Muslim heritage, both are in their mid-thirties, both make their life and work in New York City, and both are brown-skinned men with experience of encountering racism-based prejudice.

All of the action takes place in the apartment of the central characters, Amir and Emily, on the very desirable Upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC (2011–2012). This section of Manhattan is widely regarded as “high end” – expensive dwellings, wealthy homeowners/tenants, upper-level status. For Amir and Emily (most particularly the Muslim Amir), to have a home here indicates not only financial and social position: it also seems to indicate an acceptance, a place in the dominant culture of the time / place / community that many non-whites can only dream of.

Disgraced centers on Amir, a Pakistani-American lawyer who has altered his last name to disguise his Muslim heritage. A fierce opponent of Islam, Amir must confront his prejudices, his fears and the deep-seated remnants of his upbringing during a dinner party that begins uneasily and ends disastrously.

His wife, Emily is painting a portrait of her husband that is inspired by the “Portrait of Juan de Pereda” -- a 1650 painting by Spanish artist Diego de Silva y Velázquez that is the portrait of the painter’s “Moorish” slave/apprentice, Juan de Pereda. Emily calls her work, “Study after Velazquez’ Moor,” and both works share similar implications about race relations, one of the central issues of the play.