Monday, July 25, 2016

The Guthrie's Latest "Disgraced" is Delicious

"All you are ever told in this country about being [black] is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be. Now, in order to survive this, you have to really dig down into yourself and re-create yourself, really, according to no image which yet exists in America. You have to impose, in fact - this may sound very strange - you have to decide who you are, and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you." - James Baldwin

Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater
Want to know why I love live theater so much?

Because when it's done right, it is the only art form that can really, truly, reach out through the ether and physically take a hold of you.

This was my experience watching the premiere of Disgraced, the Guthrie's latest offering at the McGuire Proscenium Stage. I was literally straight up in my seat, riveted for the full 90 minutes of the show without pause.

I want you to understand: I consume A LOT of media. This NEVER happens. It is almost inevitable that at some point throughout a show/movie/play/etc. I will get a little bored and my brain will wander off.

That is very much not the case here. Disgraced is electrically written, providing a dark glimpse into the effect of the Trump-ian perspective on American Muslims. It is a perspective not nearly acknowledged enough, and kudos to the amazing, diverse cast at the Guthrie. They really do the issue justice, providing well rounded portrayals of people from a diverse range of American experiences, each of whom is in some way (usually justifiably) fucked up.
Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater
Amir, the man at the center of the story, the man who tries to hide his Muslim heritage but is required to face it anyway, is played magnificently by Bhavesh Patel. It is impossible not to bleed for Amir as the show goes on, which makes Amir's sudden violence near the end of the show all the more jarring. Caroline Kaplan is pitch-perfect as Amir's wife Emily, laying bare the many, many flaws inherent in cultural appropriation, white privilege and the backlash of "PC culture." Adit Dileep is compelling as Amir's nephew Abe and gives a glimpse into what life is like as a Muslim teenager in the U.S. His character's real-life counterparts will determine the fate of the war on terror, and I can only hope we do better by them than is portrayed here.

Kevin Isola is thoroughly despicable as the gallery owner Isaac, again showing what damage a Western superiority complex can do to those who are trying to assimilate to our ways. And Austene Van is wonderful as Jory, a co-lawyer at the law firm Amir works at and a grounding force in the show. Jory's bridge as a black woman in the corporate world is the voice of reason anchoring these character's experiences, and it is to her we turn for comfort when the rift between white America and Muslim America seems to be too big.
Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater
The set here is stationary but gorgeous, depicting a New York chic apartment with an interactive "street view" behind it. It's economical but evocative, and I loved it. Clothing is similarly posh. But the beauty of the environment can't possibly disguise the evil hiding within it. I couldn't help but feeling like author Ayad Akhtar was forcing us into perspective like the unflinching gaze of James Baldwin, tempting us with a beautiful object only to reveal the soiled center.

I could go on and on about how great this play is, but the important thing is that Disgraced is truly a piece with eyes wide open. So often we want to turn away from the truth of where we're at or not to face the consequences of our actions; but we can't solve any of the problems facing us today without encountering them with brutal honesty, stance wide, eyes blazingly focused. Interracial relationships are great - but they are really effing hard. No one should ever be asked to shoulder the burden of representing their entire race, or religion, or population. We can disagree with each other while still treating each other with respect. Two wrongs don't make a right. EVERYONE has a part in changing this world for the better, not just those who "look" like the group we blame for a problem.
Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater
Disgraced is a visceral, physical and psychic, stunning piece of art that deserves as wide an audience as possible. I highly encourage everyone to see it. You WILL feel uncomfortable, and that is exactly why it is so necessary to spend some time there. America is at a precipice in which it is necessary to ask some deeply difficult questions of ourselves; Disgraced can help you find the way forward. For more information or to buy tickets to the show, click here.

And for those who want more (and you should; playwright Ayad Akhtar is a genius), check out this interview with him below. He has a lot of deep, deep thought for us that we should take to heart: