Sometimes, the truth of a situation appears in small details before the big picture emerges. Poker players learn to scrutinize their opponents for their “tell,” the reflexive movement or twitch that an individual isn’t even aware of making. So, Disgraced, the Pulitzer prize-winning play now on Broadway, opens onto a set of an expensive, upper-east side penthouse apartment with French doors leading to the terrace, a coffered ceiling with expensive lighting and a corridor leading to the rooms beyond. This is clearly a classic Park Avenue apartment yet everyone who comes to visit knocks on the door as if this were Jerry Seinfeld’s apt on the upper west side. What, no doorbell? Even in a building with a doorman buzzing upstairs to announce a visitor? Even dinner guests dressed for a formal evening? Knocking?
This tiny detail is emblematic of everything else that is wrong with both this play and its casting. Hari Dhillon as the lead, Amir, looks less like a “brown” man than a white homosexual who is still in the closet. Karen Pittman as the black lawyer who has just made partner in a prestigious firm is outfitted as if she were getting ready to perform a gig at the Carlyle, not come to a casual dinner for four at her colleague’s home. Yet this same over-glammed woman wearing stiletto heels, a clingy black cocktail dress and sophisticated jewelry has brought a dessert from a cupcake store as a house gift. Both couples call their spouses honey, a dated term of endearment more associated with early tv sitcoms than millenial achievers who are all professionals. All the little things are wrong and then there are the big things.
We learn that Amir has been passed over for partner because of his support for a jailed imam that sent his Jewish partner into a tailspin. We are meant to believe that Muslims in America have experienced discrimination yet at the time this play was written, Michael Bloomberg, the Jewish mayor of New York and Charles Schumer, Jewish senator and photo-opportunist were staunchly defending the right of Muslims to build a mosque near Ground Zero. Huma Abeddin, the Muslim wife of Anthony Weiner was assistant to our Secretary of State and many other Muslims occupied positions of power in the Obama administration. Middle-Eastern studies in Ivy league colleges were full of Muslim professors and their ideology and Mehmet Oz was (and still is) one of the biggest draws on daytime t.v. Billionaire Muslim potentates had contributed wings to American museums, huge endowments to our universities and contributions to some of our presidential libraries. Missing from the history that the playwright recites about our plunder of Muslim lands and our dis-respect for their culture are the horrifying truths of Muslim massacres and barbarity - most recently ranging from 9/11 to the decapitations, clitorectomies, stonings, kidnappings,, suicide bombings and an ongoing series of wars and coups d’etat throughout the middle east, Indonesia and Africa as well as murders and mayhem in Europe and the western hemisphere.
The plot development between Emily, Amir’s wife, and Isaac, the curator who will decide whether to include her work in his museum’s next show, makes no sense when considered in retrospect after the climactic denouement. And any playwright who must advance his plot by a split-second opening of a door onto a forbidden embrace is either lazy or a hack. Amir, a Muslim man born in America, was right to denounce his religion at the beginning of the play but we are meant to believe that he achieves a deeper understanding of the situation by the end and his final confrontation with his portrait is a sign of his new appraisal of his identity and religious/cultural heritage. ( Apparently without the Arabs, we never would have known about Aristotle). Abe, the Muslim nephew who initially tries to discard his identity but then becomes assertively politicized is a character in search of a personality. He’s a fulcrum for the plot but alas, he’s boring, boorish and ultimately too Moorish.
Disgraced is a play for people who get their information and opinions only from the NYTimes and who still believe that Islamo-phobia is a real problem in the United States. The truth is far more dangerous and lethal. Plays like this encourage us to keep those blinders on and ignore the steadily encroaching and ominous Islamic peril.
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