Entertainment

The Rep’s ‘Disgraced’ exposes deep-rooted prejudices

A dinner party turns sour among couples in “Disgraced.” From left, Jonathan C. Kaplan, Rachel Christopher, Leigh Williams and John Pasha.
A dinner party turns sour among couples in “Disgraced.” From left, Jonathan C. Kaplan, Rachel Christopher, Leigh Williams and John Pasha.

A dinner party ignites a powderkeg of simmering race and religion issues in the industrial-strength intense “Disgraced,” a truly remarkable evening of theater.

Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary play is a carefully calibrated drama that slowly builds to gasp-out-loud twists and turns, which had a totally invested audience on the edge of their seats opening night.

This visceral experience at The Rep exposes deep-rooted prejudices, no matter how educated or open-minded one pretends to be.

Pretense is stripped away as the lives of five disparate characters are revealed. Director Seth Gordon has assuredly guided this 90-minute work to reach a devastating climax, provoking strong emotions.

The setting is a striking, tony Upper East Side apartment designed by Kevin Depinet, who excels at portraying affluence (last year’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”),

As the play opens, Emily (Leigh Williams), the epitome of a WASP-looking New York wife, is an emerging artist sketching her successful Pakistani attorney husband Amir Kapoor (John Pasha). They will profoundly undergo changes as lives unravel and beliefs are questioned.

Amir is pompous and vain, long ago forsaking his Muslim heritage. Emily is intrigued by Islam, which her art depicts. When Amir’s young nephew Hussein, now calling himself “Abe” in a post-9/11 world, asks for a favor, he reluctantly volunteers, at Emily’s urging.

Representing Hussein’s Imam, the presiding priest at a mosque, in court one day damages Amir’s reputation at a mergers-and-acquisition law firm.

Emily’s ascension in the art world is helped by Isaac (Jonathan C. Kaplan), a seasoned art dealer who is married to Jory (Rachel Christopher), a rising star colleague of Amir.

An innocuous dinner invitation turns into a turbulent, life-changing evening as the two couples break bread.

While the play is a sturdy examination of faith and feelings, the cast has various degrees of success in portraying their conflicted characters.

Amir is such an abrasive protagonist that Pasha’s swaggering in the beginning is off-putting. However, by the finale, one can understand his plight.

On the other hand, Fahim Hamid is immediately impressive as the sympathetic Abe/Hussein, questioning whether America is a place he can call home.

Both Williams and Christopher are strong in their portrayals of women successful in their careers while being supportive partners in marriage. Christopher fires some terrific shots — and priceless glares — in response to her husband’s anecdotes.

A 2015 Tony nominee for Best Play, the smartly written “Disgraced” challenges us about our attitudes as it tells us a story that’s absolutely riveting.

“Disgraced”

  • When: through March 6
  • Who: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
  • Where: Mainstage Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves, Mo.
  • Tickets: 314-968-4925; www.repstl.org
  Comments