Pulitzer-winner in final week at Pittsburgh Public Theater | Blogh

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pulitzer-winner in final week at Pittsburgh Public Theater

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 12:00 PM

The word “provocative” is tossed around a lot in the arts, but it genuinely applies to Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar’s 2014 Pulitzer-winner. The Public is staging the local premiere of this drama about Islam, Islamophobia, race, art and more in a post-9/11 New York.

click to enlarge From left: Nafeesa Monroe, Fajer Kaisi, Lisa Velten Smith and Ryan McCarthy in "Disgraced" - PHOTO COURTESY OF PITTSBURGH PUBLIC THEATER
  • Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Public Theater
  • From left: Nafeesa Monroe, Fajer Kaisi, Lisa Velten Smith and Ryan McCarthy in "Disgraced"
The play’s set amongst the privileged few, for sure: Its central character, Amir (played by Fajer Kaisi), is a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer, and other characters include his artist wife; a curator at the Whitney Museum; and the curator’s wife, who happens to be a law colleague of Amir’s.

In his review for CP, Ted Hoover found Disgraced rather too calculatedly provocative. I can see his point: After all, Amir’s wife, who’s into traditional Islamic art, is white; the curator is Jewish; and Amir’s colleague is African-American. Amir himself is a self-described Muslim apostate, a good portion of whose dialogue consists of the sort of condemnations of Islam you might hear at the occasional Republican presidential rally. The only practicing Muslim in the play is Amir’s younger cousin, who’s linked to a local imam who’s up on charges of fundraising for terrorists.

But I’m more on the side of Hoover’s playgoing companion, who found too much of interest in Disgraced not to enjoy it. (To enjoy, I mean, besides the smart performances and Tracy Brigden’s clever direction of the lightning-fast 85-minute show.)

The show’s got a dozen juicy themes and 50 chewy ideas. To name just one throughline: One thing that Amir’s wife, Emily, loves about Islamic art is that because it’s nonrepresentational, it seems to transcend the personal — to efface ego, as the curator suggests. This leads to a discussion (more of an argument, really) about whether the Renaissance, which apotheosized the individual, was such a good thing after all.

Yet the play’s central visual motif is a portrait painted by Emily of Amir after a famous work by Velasquez — who’s nothing if not an exemplary artist of the Renaissance. No spoilers, but the trajectory of this portrait through the play (especially as bounced off of Emily’s Islam-influenced works) is a pretty fruitful one to follow.

Disgraced has seven more performances through Sunday, starting tonight (including matinees tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday).

Tickets are $15.75-60 and are available here.

The Public’s O’Reilly Theater is at 621 Penn Ave., Downtown.

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