Unicorn’s ‘Disgraced’ is a Graceful Takedown of So Many of Us

Left to Right: Matt Rapport, Shawna Pena-Downing, Molly Denninghoff, and Alexander Salamat Photo: Unicorn Theater

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A WASP, a black woman, a Jewish man, and an ex-Muslim man are all eating dinner together…

Good playwrights can tap into the zeitgeist in much greater immediacy (and with more prescience) than perhaps any other form of art. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced, running through Nov. 12 at the Unicorn Theatre, is a perfect example of that. Ayad Akhtar wrote the play in 2012, yet in 82 minutes, he exposes all the cultural issues that are occurring today. Nostradamus could not have done a better job.

The play focuses mostly on the character of Amir (played by Alexander Salamat), a lawyer with Pakistani roots who has rejected the religion of his childhood, Islam, just as his nephew Abe (Michael Thayer) is embracing it. To make things complicated, his white wife, Emily, has fallen in love with Islamic art and is trying to increase awareness of Islamic culture.

Emily and Amir invite Amir’s African American co-worker Jory (Shawna Peña Downing) to dinner, and Jory brings her husband, Isaac (Matt Rapport), a Jewish art dealer who works with Emily. The dinner conversation turns to a discussion of religion, and it quickly devolves into characters trying to rip into the beliefs of the others. And not in the way you might predict.

The play is not an examination of open bigotry and religious intolerance. It is a masterful exposé of the unexamined bigotry and deliberate ignorance that educated and progressive people still possess. It punctures the surface of “good people” and shines a light on the ugliness and internalized oppression they don’t want to admit they have.

The cast has great chemistry, the dialogue is tight and believable, and the set design immediately immerses us into the lives of the characters. It’s an intimate play that will make you gasp – not only for the awkwardness on stage, but also because it may hit home more than you care to admit.

That’s why, if you are reading this, you should go see this play.

The Unicorn Theatre is presenting Disgrace through Nov. 12 on its Jerome Stage. For tickets, go to http://unicorntheatre.org.