“Disgraced” by Ayad Akhtar at Seattle Rep

A visceral and intellectual tour de force, this Pulitzer-Prize-winning play will not leave you unmoved as it addresses the question of identity, especially what it means to be a Muslim in today’s America. Beautifully directed here by Kimberly Senior, it’s a co-production of Seattle Rep with the Goodman Theatre of Chicago and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Its main character, the all-American Amir, (powerfully played by Bernard White) gave up the Muslim religion in his youth. As an adult he abjures the concepts adhered to by strict Muslims and must be considered an anti-Muslim bigot. He’s a brilliant lawyer working for a prestigious New York firm and on his way to partner. Yet he was raised by Pakistani Muslims, and in the United States today there’s usually a price to be paid for that.

Emily his Anglo wife is an artist who appreciates things Muslim. She incorporates within her paintings patterning that is drawn from traditional Muslim art. She’s good, and is hoping to have her work represented in an upcoming show at the Whitney Museum. Meanwhile as Nisi Sturgis plays her, she’s as charming as she is driven, and she’s madly in love with her husband, despite their differences of opinion about the Muslim religion.

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Nisi Sturgis (Emily), Bernard White (Amir), J. Anthony Crane (Isaac) and Zakiya Young (Jory) in Disgraced Photo: Liz Lauren

She even takes a maternal interest in his young cousin Abe who Amir fears is getting too involved with questionable elements of the religion. Emi pleads with Amir to help Abe.

Emily and Amir have a happy marriage bolstered by the riches provided them by Amir’s success. They live in an upscale condo (we must assume upper East Side), and entertain with sophistication. Their guests in this play are Jory, Amir’s elegant African American female colleague and her partner Isaac who is one of the Whitney curators. The evening starts with good willed conviviality. These couples have much in common.

But all’s not well that begins well. By the end of the evening shocking revelations and actions take place. The friendships are irrevocably broken as are the bonds that tie Amir and Emily. And the audience is left with the feeling that it has received a carefully placed stomach punch.

The charming morphs into the shocking. The funny has become brutal. The power of it all is so great that, on the night I was there, one audience member rose, screamed his distaste, and slammed out of one of the exits. His loss!

This is weighty theatre. It’s overwhelming emotional effect is equaled by the intellectual issues it raises. This is theatre you don’t want to miss.

Through Jan. 31 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206-443-2222 or seattlerep.org).

BECAUSE OF POPULAR DEMAND THIS PLAY HAS BEEN EXTENDED THROUGH FEB. 6

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