Monday, May 9, 2016


Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar

Directed by Sarah Goodes. Wharf 1 Theatre. Sydney Theatre Company.  April 16-June 4 2016. Canberra Season: June 22- June 25 2016

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Sachin Joab as Amir in Sydney Theatre Company's Discgraced
Photo by Prudence Upton

It is not surprising that Ayad Akhtar’s play Disgraced should have won the Pulitzer Prize. Nor is it surprising that the play should be the most produced play in America. It is in my mind the most important play of our time to examine the disturbing issue of religious and racial confrontation in a troubled and conflicting world. Akhtar’s dialogue explodes with controversy. It is a piercing probe to the intellect, tightly constructed, precise in its aim, cutting in its polemic, as direct as an arrow to its target, riveting, absorbing, thought provoking, and powerful in enduring resonance. It is impossible not to be moved, to be provoked to be compelled to question one’s own beliefs and be driven to grapple with perception and perspective until one is left exhausted and confronting one’s own notion of belief and self-analysis

Sachin Joab as Amir and Sophie Ross as Emily
in Disgraced. P{hoto by Prudence Upton
Akhtar’s view of the world and of the nature of Judaism, Islam and personal and communal faith is told through the story of successful and wealthy New York mergers and acquisitions lawyer, Amir (Sachin Joab), his artist wife, Emily (Sophie Ross), Jewish art curator, Isaac (Glen Hazledine), his wife, African American colleague of Amir, Jory (Paula Arundell) and Amir’s confused and troubled nephew Abe (Shiv Palekar).
Emily pleads for Amir to help his nephew by supporting an Imam, arrested and on remand on suspicion of receiving money for terrorist purposes. Despite his protests, Amir gives way to his wife’s requests, and is subsequently misreported in the New York Times as acting as defense for the Imam. He faces the wrath of the law partners of his Jewish law firm, and issues come to a head at a dinner party Amir and Emily throw for Isaac and Jory. In the course of the dinner, bonhomie turns to bitter argument, fuelled by disbelief, opposing views, complex interpretations and personal recriminations. Complicated by devastating revelations, the dinner party descends into turmoil and violent disintegration of friendship, trust and respect. Amir’s world collapses, bereft of the ordered and comfortable life depicted at the start of the play. It is further compounded by Abe’s reversal to his Muslim name Hussein and his potential embracing of Jihad.

Sachin Joab as Amir. Paula Arundell as Jory. Sophie Ross as Emily
Glen Hazledine as Isaac in Disgraced. Photo. Pudence Upton
Akhtar’s play makes no apology for his character’s convictions or behaviour. They are the victims of a battleground of religious conflict and human failing. Born in one country with its own distinct social and cultural milieu, raised in another and conflicted by a dominant culture, alien in faith and historical genesis, Amir adapts and succeeds, while Abe struggles with identity and allegiance. Akhtar’s play is a tragedy of dispossession and confused identity.   His characters play out their pre-prescribed roles, conditioned by faith, environment, education and beliefs inherited or assumed. It is the complexity of the human condition that provides insight into its inherent truths. It is Amir’s honesty, ironically, that creates the implosion in his relationships with the other characters. It is his belief in his personal truth that brings the dinner party conversation to a head as Isaac’s Jewish faith finds itself on a collision course with Amir’s pride in his people, provoked by the terrible events of 9/11.

Paula Arundell as Jory. Sachin Joab as Amir
Photo by Prudence Upton
The personal, professional and ideological events, expressed in Akhtar’s profoundly intellectual, thought provoking and emotive drama invoke self- analysis. The power of the drama lies in its inevitable provocation. It defies complacency, confronts opinion and compels engagement of heart and mind. The play lingers long in the consciousness after the actors have taken their bows.

Sarah Goode’s direction is electric. Timing is as taut as an elastic band stretched to its ultimate elasticity. Akhtar’s dialogue is direct and efficient, sketching character with clear, bold strokes and circumstance with deft timing and startling effect.

Ultimately, the Sydney Theatre Company’s production is an actor’s play, and Goodes has chosen an outstanding cast, embracing the ethnic nature of the cast and observing the distinct individuality of each character and their contribution to Akhtar’s political, social and personal discourse.  Joab charts the difficult course of Amir’s decline from wealthy lawyer in Elizabeth Gadsby’s imaginatively and stylishly designed New York apartment to the lone figure, brought down by misadventure and misunderstanding. As the protagonist, Joab arouses an empathetic response to his Amir’s fatal flaw. He is indeed the tragic hero of Akhtar’s tragedy of ideology and truth.
Sachin Joab and Shiv Palekar as Abe in Disgraced
Photo by Prudence Up[ton

Every performance in this play is riveting. As the artist wife, Sophie Ross as Emily struggles to grapple with a circumstance and emotions beyond her understanding.  Trapped between her American upbringing, her love for Amir and her innocent naivety, Emily is portrayed with intelligence and truth by Ross. Arundell’s Jory is feisty, ambitious and intimidating. It is a performance of power and presence. Hazledine’s Isaac epitomizes the confident and influential art curator. Isaac’s intransigence is played with infuriating resistance by Hazledine in a performance that allows no recourse to compromise or understanding. Cultures collide. Compromise collapses and truth becomes the victim of conditioned conversation. It is Palekar’s Abe who evokes the most urgent need for understanding. Torn apart by confusion of identity, belief and separation, Palekar creates a performance so natural, so believable that it compels consideration of the complexity implicit in Akhtar’s play and characters.
Glenn Hazledine, Sophie Ross, Sachin Joab and Paula Arundell
in the Dinner Party scene in Disgraced. Photo: Prudence Upton
Writer, director and actors have not created a work that offers hope for solution. They do offer hope for debate, for understanding, for empathy and ultimately an awareness of cause and effect. This is a play for the American people that speaks to peoples of all nations and all cultures, races and creeds. Inspired by a true dinner party conversation, Disgraced offers food for every dinner party’s conversation. Disgraced’s personal tragedy is also society’s tragedy and the fatal flaws must be understood before catharsis may be attained. In this powerful, engaging and theatrically dynamic drama lie the seeds for change in the way we perceive ourselves and the world we live in. Drama achieves its true purpose in Disgraced.
Sophie Ross as Emily and Sachin Joab as Amir in Disgraced

Canberra audiences will have the opportunity to see this play when it comes to the Canberra Theatre Centre in June.  Do not miss this production of Disgraced. It will open your mind, touch your heart and arouse your humanity.

Disgraced will play at the Canberra Playhouse from June 22 to June 25. For further information and bookings go to