NEW YORK–The brisk and bristling “Disgraced” confers on Broadway a quality in far too short supply: topicality. Ayad Akhtar’s spiky drama, which had its official opening Thursday night at the Lyceum Theatre, grapples with a subject as rich in dramatic possibility as it is juicy fodder for Sunday morning talk shows.
The playwright won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama for “Disgraced” (full disclosure: I chaired the jury that recommended it). And what was apparent on the page and in the original production (featuring “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi as the lawyer, Amir) is again potently conveyed. Akhtar, providing in Shavian style a spectrum of lively, contentious perspectives, inspires a provocative consideration of the matrix of personal choices and social pitfalls that a member of any religious minority, and in this case, a Muslim, may confront in this country.
Akhtar’s vehicle is Amir–now played by Dhillon–a lawyer at a prestigious Manhattan law firm, who’s married to Mol’s Emily, a painter deeply influenced by Islamic art. Amir, we learn, is conflicted about his past–he’s changed his name–and not at all interested in his ethnic and religious heritage. But after Emily and his newly observant nephew (Danny Ashok) ask him to provide legal advice for an imam who may have been falsely accused of crimes against the state, Amir is put in a bind. A news story about a subsequent court hearing misidentifies him as the imam’s lawyer. In line for a promotion at his firm, whose partners are Jewish, Amir now worries whether the association will impede his advancement. And when a bit of misinformation about his family on his job application is suddenly brought to his attention, his paranoia intensifies.
The depth of his anxiety is revealed in a terrific dinner-party scene in Amir and Emily’s swanky apartment, suavely realized by set designer John Lee Beatty. Their guests are Isaac, an art dealer (Radnor) deeply interested in the Middle Eastern phase of Emily’s work, and his wife Jory (Karen Pittman), another associate in Amir’s law firm. That Isaac is Jewish and Jory is black figures crucially in the ensuing recriminations blurted out over dinner and ultimately, in the brutality unleashed by Amir. Though the implications of that rage are made plain, its origins are left to you to ponder.
It’s an admirably taut evening, marred slightly by a few instances of overeager performance: some shouting and gesticulating encouraged in the pumping up of the play’s fireworks. Otherwise, “Disgraced” is just what a serious theatergoer craves these days: a tough-minded inquiry that finds urgent dramatic connections in things that divide us.
Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar. Directed by Kimberly Senior. Set, John Lee Beatty; costumes, Jennifer Von Mayrhauser; lighting Kenneth Posner. About 85 minutes. $37.50-$138. At Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St., New York. Visit telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.