‘Disgraced’ an explosive race relations drama

Some plays have a soft and gentle feel. Others build to a climax but remain mellow for the most part. And then there’s Ayad Akhtar’s explosive race relations drama “Disgraced,” which makes its audience feel like it was just uncomfortably blindsided and hit with a ton of bricks.

“Disgraced” received a short Off-Broadway run two seasons ago at Lincoln Center Theater. A few months after it closed, it unexpectedly won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The 85-minute play focuses on Amir (Hari Dhillon), a slick, insecure Pakistani-American corporate attorney married to a Caucasian artist (Gretchen Mol). Amir has made a point of separating himself from his cultural ties, even as his wife adores and appropriates Islamic art. In their fashionable Upper East Side apartment, he is about as materialistic as can be, with a particular penchant for expensive shirts.  

However, once he unwillingly comes to the legal defense of a fellow Muslim, his burgeoning success grinds to a halt, culminating in a turbulent dinner party with another married couple, his African-American co-worker (Karen Pittman) and an intellectual, Jewish art curator (Josh Radnor).

As Amir continues to refill his liquor glass, he becomes increasingly angry and unhinged, offering his frank thoughts about the Koran, the Bible, Israel and 9/11 to his shocked guests. When words fail, he gets physical.

Even if some of the plot developments are relatively over-the-top, Akhtar raises a provocative debate over racial and religious identity that is as compelling as it is disturbing. “Disgraced” is essentially a modern tragedy, leaving its audience in a state of fear and pity. Just as Oedipus was helpless to alter his fate, Amir is seemingly unable to escape his heritage.

Kimberly Senior’s engrossing production is marked by strong performances all around. Dhillon convincingly depicts Amir’s descent out of cool professionalism, while Radnor brings a professorial, purposely unpleasant touch to his character that is a far cry from the ultra-romantic Ted Mosby.


If you go: “Disgraced” plays an open run at the Lyceum Theatre. 149 W. 45th St., disgracedonbroadway.com.