Disgraced at Goodman Theatre dishes up food for thought

Disgraced at Goodman Theatre dishes up food for thought
Bernard White (Amir), Nisi Sturgis (Emily), Zakiya Young (Jory) and J. Anthony Crane (Isaac) in Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, directed by Kimberly Senior at Goodman Theatre (September 12 – October 18, 2015). Photo: Liz Lauren

A celebratory dinner turns sour when inner demons explode and cultures collide in “Disgraced” at Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

The blistering production, which opened Monday night at the Goodman’s Albert Theatre, exposes the landscape of prejudice in the “politically correct” world of 21st century urban America.

In the capable hands of the play’s original director, Kimberly Senior, “Disgraced” brings to the surface the underlying anxieties that haunt us all from the complexities of identity, to religion, politics and class in a flawless 80-minute production.

The five character cast features Amir Kapoor (Bernard White), a Pakistani-American who has turned his back on his faith and hidden his identity in order to be successful it in the post 9/11 world; his blonde WASPish wife, Emily (Nisi Sturgis), an artist and a liberal; his nephew, Abe (Behzad Dabu) who is proud of his Muslim roots; and the couple they have to dinner, Isaac (J. Anthony Crane), a Jewish art curator who’s about to feature his hostess’s paintings in a new show; and his attractive African American wife, Jory (Zakiya Young), who just happens to be a lawyer in the same firm as Amir.


Bernard White (Amir) and Nisi Sturgis (Emily). Photo: Liz Lauren

It doesn’t take long for the evening, which begins cordially enough, to escalate into an explosive crescendo exposing all the fears and prejudices that lurk beneath the surface of each of the characters.

The dialogue is shocking, especially in an upper class community where political correctness is the norm.

Nisi Sturgis (Emily), Bernard White (Amir), J. Anthony Crane (Isaac) and Zakiya Young (Jory) in "Disgraced" at the Goodman Theatre, directed by Kimberly Senior. Photo: Liz Lauren

Nisi Sturgis (Emily), Bernard White (Amir), J. Anthony Crane (Isaac) and Zakiya Young (Jory) in “Disgraced” at the Goodman Theatre, directed by Kimberly Senior. Photo: Liz Lauren

With the name-calling turning vicious and accusations flying, the situation spins totally out-of-control as the dinner guests leave the party and then the unthinkable happens.

The playwright, Ayad Akhtar, explains his play this way, “The play seems to function as a kind of litmus test; it tells you where you are in society, and has the capacity to connect people to themselves and others in a heartfelt way. I’ve gotten an equal amount of feedback from both sides of the Muslim community; some ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and others say, ‘Thank God you are doing this!’ Much work was done at every stage of development of ‘Disgraced,’ but it finally feels like it has found its most mature form.”

As Artistic Director Robert Falls succinctly puts it “this brilliant play shows us successful, intelligent characters grappling with questions that cannot be readily answered or easily solved—in a society whose quest for correctness and justice may have resulted in neither.”

“Disgraced” by playwright, novelist, screenwriter and actor Ayad Akhtarhad had its world premiere production in 2012 at Chicago’s American Theater Company.  From there it went to New York’s Lincoln Center Theater, subsequently winning the 2013 Pulitzer Prize and Obie Award for Extraordinary Achievement.

It later transferred to Broadway, where it earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Play.

“Disgraced” will be produced at 10 major American regional theaters this season and have 32 productions in the next 24 months, as well as numerous productions overseas–making it the most-produced play of the 2015-16 season. In addition, a film version with HBO is in the works.

The entire production, from the staging to the directing to the acting runs like a well oiled machine. It exposes many of our underlying fears and should be seen by everyone who cares about the future of society.

Matters that are not brought up in a polite society are fodder for this show and should make for some stimulating and thought-provoking after show conversations–which are sure to take place.

We fear what we don’t know. The more we know, the less we’ll fear.


‘Disgraced’ at the Goodman Theatre


When: Through October 18, 2015

Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Tickets: $25-$82 at 312-443-3800 or online.

Click here for more shows on Chicago’s Fall Theater docket.

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