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Disgraced Asks Deep Questions About Cultural Identities
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Saturday, February 24, 2024
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTO BY KIRSTEN SHULTZ

Play Director Catherine Eaton calls “Disgraced” a play about the damage our assumptions and prejudices can do. It also, she said, is about our deep need for inclusion and what happens when we’re forced to bend too far to get that inclusion.

“What forces Amir into an impossible corner is not his upbringing or his desire to stay close to his family—but rather American society’s inability to accept him as he is,” she adds.

“Disgraced,” being offered through Saturday, March 2, by The Liberty Theatre Company, is a difficult play to watch. But it certainly is thought provoking as it examines such issues as conflicts between values and biases and whether so-called “others” in America should be forced to renounce their cultural identities to gain acceptance.

It also looks at the differences between first-generation immigrants with a love-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the country they hailed as paradise and their children who may have other views.

Ultimately it shows just how complicated it is to navigate today’s world, no matter who you are.

“I have been totally thrilled and inspired by the community's response to the show,” said The Liberty Theatre Company’s artistic director Naomi McDougall Jones, one of five actors in the play. “I have been in so many cafes, hair salons, grocery stores and randomly overheard people having deep, passionate conversations about the play and what it brought up in them and, for me, that is the most exciting that can ever happen from a piece of art.

“Ticket sales have been through the roof--300% more sold than for our drama last year,” she added, “And I think that's due to the word of mouth--how much people are talking about the show and telling their friends, ‘You have to go see this so I can talk to you about it.’ "

The play was the first play by American-born novelist and playwright Ayad Akhtar—a frequent guest at Sun Valley Writer’s Conference, including the 2024 conference in July. It won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama before opening on Broadway in 2014. It also received a 2013 Obie Award for playwriting and a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Play in 2015.

The current conflict between Israel and Hamas makes it as relevant as ever as it examines the inner struggles of a merger and acquisitions specialist who tries to distance himself from his Muslim background to get a promotion in the Jewish law firm in which he works.

Ash T. plays Amir, the lawyer who insists he’s Indian, not just to assimilate into his work world but because of deep-seated resentments about biases his Muslim family expressed when he was a child.

Naomi McDougall Jones plays his wife Emily, a WASP who tries to recreate the beauty and wisdom she sees in the Islamic tradition in her artwork and can’t understand her husband’s self-loathing.

Marvin Youssif plays Abe, Amir’s nephew and a devout and possibly radicalized Muslim.

Aubrey Lace Taylor plays Jory, an African-American who is seeking the same promotion Amir wants.

And Daniel A. Stevens plays Isaac, a Jewish art curator who admires certain parts of Islam while being overtly prejudiced towards Muslim people.

Looming over them is the excitement of being back in The Liberty Theatre with its comfy seats, big stage and the beautiful maroon-colored curtains that Demi Moore hung. Its opening was marred a bit when furnace broke and theatergoers had to bundle up but that was fixed as of Thursday.

And the amazing set that Joe Lavigne designed and Tim Black built should have valley Realtors swooning for a listing.

Eaton, who co-directs the play alongside Sami Bass, said she hopes those who see will the play will examine what they ask of those who walk the planet alongside them.

“Love is the bedrock of every human story, including this one,” she said. “It is the love between Emily and Amir that sets up the inciting incident of the play. It is love on this stage that…ultimately leads to the seismic events of the play.”

WANT TO GO?

“Disgraced” starts at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 24-25 and Wednesday-Saturday, Feb. 28-March 2. There also will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Feb. 25.

A Community Conversation open to anyone who has seen the play will be held at 3:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, at The Liberty Theatre.

Tickets are $15 and $30, available at https://www.libertytheatrecompany.org/ticketing.

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