Controversy on the Menu: In Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced, Dinner Party Politics Tear a Couple Apart

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09 Aug 2014

Ayad Akhtar
Ayad Akhtar

Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar continues exploring the Muslim experience in America with the Broadway opening of Disgraced.


The tendency is to ask the question right off: "Do you think people as ethnically and culturally far-flung as these four could ever get together for a meal?"

Ayad Akhtar, who set places for a pretty extreme quartet in his play, Disgraced, likes to let his nitpickers load up the unlikeliness of it all before he lowers the boom. "Well, they did," he says with the calculated cool of someone who has that question covered. "The play was based on an actual dinner party at my home in Harlem in 2006. The party didn't end quite as badly in real life as it does in the play."

It obviously didn't end particularly well, either. He and his "now-ex-wife" had two friends over — one European, one Jewish — and somebody said, "Islam: Discuss."

"I don't think any of them knew I was Muslim," Akhtar recalls, "because that night I felt like something very important shifted between me and my now-ex-wife, just in terms of perception and the ways that articulating certain aspects of Muslim identity can make people scared."

"It was a subtle thing that happened that night, but I remember thinking, 'This is an interesting premise for a play, where conversation at a dinner party ends up irrevocably changing everyone's relationship, professionally and personally.'"


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