Thursday’s opening night of Disgraced by Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids provoked the audience to address current issues in society, and look in the mirror at their own biases or preconceived judgements.
The show, by Ayad Akhtar, centers around five characters, each symbolizing the “other,” those that are looked at differently than what’s considered “normal.” Amir Kapoor, played by Sammy Publes, is a born-Muslim who has strayed away from the faith and has assimilated into American culture and society. His wife, Emily, is a white artist who focuses on Islamic influences. Her art dealer is a Jewish man, whose wife is a black lawyer. Kapoor’s nephew is a Pakistan-born Muslim who has a hard time understanding how Kapoor left his faith.
Throughout the play, it becomes obvious that Kapoor has an axe to grind with Islam, and he pushes it away any chance he can. When his nephew asks Kapoor - a New York City lawyer - to help counsel a local Imam who was accused of funnelling money to terrorists, he immediately refuses, as he doesn’t want his firm seeing him affiliated with a Muslim who is accused of being a terrorist. His nephew tells him the Imam would feel more comfortable to have a Muslim lawyer on his side, and Kapoor only gets more upset.
Kapoor grew up Muslim, and now has a lot against it. He pushes people away because he struggles to understand his own identity. He is overwhelmed, remarking that he is the first to arrive and first to leave at work, just to get the same recognition as the other lawyers at his firm. On top of that, his co-workers ask him invasive questions. Kapoor lets this anger build inside him and throughout Disgraced, the emotions escalate quickly.
Publes stars as the lead with a strong, emotional and real performance. He effortlessly embodies the struggles Kapoor is going through and makes the audience really empathize with his character. The other four characters each play off their own strengths in making the show an overall touching performance.
The show was quick, 80 minutes with no intermission, and filled with heavy themes of Islamophobia, bigotry and anti-semitism, but the audience left with a better understanding of how it feels to be the “other” and trying to fit in a place where you’re not always accepted for reasons out of your control.
Each upcoming show will feature a talkback afterwards with panelists from Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities, brought by the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. The goal is to open a discussion with the community.
Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids
160 Fountain St. NE
April 13-22, 8 p.m.
General admission $28, students/seniors $22