REVIEW: Disgraced at Philadelphia Theatre Company

It wasn't fully a disgrace, but at times it felt like the individual pieces of this Pulitzer-winning drama didn't add up to a cohesive whole.

Pej Vahdat and Monette Magrath in "Disgraced."

Pej Vahdat and Monette Magrath in “Disgraced.”

There’s one word that I can use to describe the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of the Pulitzer-winning drama Disgraced: polarizing.

And if I wanted to add a few more words, I’d say it was polarizing for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve, quite frankly, never felt so divided about a piece of theatre in my life. Some parts of the PTC staging were simply brilliant, while others were so bad, it left several audience members who I talked to after the 85-minute play nearly running out of the theatre to escape.

To begin, the play could easily be a breeding ground for social discomfort, simply due to the subject matter, which, ultimately, shouldn’t surprise anyone who reads any of the marketing materials for the production: A Pakistani-American lawyer, Amir, has to confront his own internal self-hatred after an explosive dinner party at his Upper East Side apartment with his artist wife, Emily.

The script itself, written by Ayad Akhtar, does make engaging commentary about racial profiling and a Western interpretation of Eastern religious iconography. However, I couldn’t help but cringe at some of the more unbelievable moments, especially when Emily’s artistic sponsor, who happens to be married to one of Amir’s co-workers, begins to throw jabs about 9/11, Israel, and al-Qaeda at Amir after a drunken bender. Dramatically intense? Yes. Realistic? No, unless you’re a real dinner party asshole. And, yes, I’ve seen unrealistic dinner party scenes that felt authentic: August: Osage County, anyone?

The PTC production looked handsome, and employed some impressive acting. Most notably Pej Vahdat, who played Amir. He outstanding and brought a deeply heartfelt interpretation to the lawyer who has, in essence, betrayed himself. Also especially strong was the fabulous Aimé Donna Kelly, who tackled Amir’s no-nonsense co-worker Jory with true zeal. Less impressive was Monette Magrath, whose interpretation of Amir’s wife, Emily, was annoyingly cloy and at times completely unbelievable.

In the end, the juxtaposition of insight and disgust may have been what director Mary Robinson was going for here, but I’m not entirely sure that is the case. Disgraced wasn’t fully a disgrace, but at times it did feel like the individual pieces of this production didn’t add up to a cohesive whole, and that’s a shame given the important and timely issues that are covered in the drama.

“Disgraced” runs at Philadelphia Theatre Company through November 8. For tickets and more information, visit their website.

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