Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Educating Rita
Otherwise, whenever characters are spouting playwright Ayad Akhtar's divisive dialog, the whole thing becomes deeply contrived, with more stitches than a Frankenstein monster (and twice as angry). With at least half the dialog referring to people and things we never see, outside the family walls of a Pakistani-American lawyer and his very American wife, it almost seems the playwright is trying to wedge the whole world into an Upper East Side apartment. And it's not an easy fit, even under the direction of Associate Artistic Director Seth Gordon.
So let us, for a moment, consider the "Theater of Outrage."
Two months ago, in December, the New Jewish Theatre produced Joshua Harmon's Bad Jews in St. Louis, a play guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of even the dead. And in recent years, we've seen productions of David Mamet and Neil LaBute in these parts that seemed intent on inciting a mob to grab their pitchforks and torches.
In each of those shows, the action was focused on people and things right there in front of us. Not so with Disgraced. Only the climactic act of violence seems to directly affect everyone we see before us on stage (if you don't count that brief moment where all the grown-ups first sit down at the dinner table). It's a pretty big flaw in script construction.
So at some point the playwright apparently just decided it would be easier to yank a bunch of big emotional chains on-stage, and yank he does: ramping up Middle Eastern tensions, 9/11, spousal abuse, and the "N" word. Without implausible incitements like these, Disgraced would just be a visit to the beauty parlor, full of gossip about other people in other places.
All that being true, there is a sort of interesting question here of identity (but aren't all stories about identity?): each of the characters seems to be an amalgam of at least two identities, which are then turned to expose different faces (and generate tension) as it suits the author's convenience. There are a couple of moments where John Pasha (as Amir, the lawyer) and Jonathan C. Kaplan (as Isaac) truly do seem pressed between the identities forced upon them. And it is interesting when Amir has to question his identity in the end, when everything else is said or (said to be) done. Not compelling, but interesting.
Leigh Williams is nice as Amir's wife Emily, but the script doesn't give her room for much more. And Rachel Christopher somehow adds excitement just by the nature of her presence, as Isaac's wife Jory. She plays a sassy black dame, but miraculously makes the character new and arresting. Amir (our leading man) is a bit of a problem in that he always seems either strangely magnanimous or anguished or too bossy by half. And everyone else just seems oppressed, most of the time. It's a party I was glad to leave.
In the end it's just six subjects for ranting, in search of a story: racism, religious misunderstanding, adultery, domestic violence, terrorism, and loss of self. Could have been a comedy. Probably should have been a comedy. It's already pastiche.
Through March 6, 2016, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, on the Browning Mainstage, of the Loretto-Hilton Center, on the campus of Webster University. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
The Players (in speaking order)