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

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09 Aug 2014

Josh Radnor
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In his debut play, which took home the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and comes to Broadway's Lyceum Theatre in September, the author pins his personal angst on the host, Amir Kapoor (Hari Dhillon), a successful Muslim-American lawyer who checks his roots, heritage and identity at the door so he can make better headway in the marketplace without all those cumbersome stereotypes holding him back.

Amir's white, liberal wife, Emily (Gretchen Mol), is more the Islam expert, an artist specializing in Islamic imagery. Their party guests are Jory (Karen Pittman), Amir's African-American colleague, and her husband Isaac (Josh Radnor), a Jewish art curator. The party starts out a civilized soirée and, with the influx of ideas and opinions, turns into an explosive guess-who's-coming-out dinner.

"The current of that evening ran through me for a couple of years, I think, as the conceit for a much larger dramatic exploration of this — using that conceit as a surgical scalpel on post-9/11 cultural and identity politics," contends the 43-year-old New York–born Milwaukee-bred son of Pakistani parents. "It didn't really bubble up until 2009, and I started writing it, finishing my first draft in 2010. It took that long to germinate as an idea in me. Sometimes it takes a long time for it to swim around before it comes back up."

The sound of intelligent people conversing, arguing and articulating their angst is a theatrical rarity that works a mesmerizing hold on the audience. "For many of us, the texture of lived life is filled with ideas. It's not just about what we can't say or what we don't say. It's about what we think and what we try to say to other people.

"I want to engage an audience intellectually, emotionally and narratively, open up a field of possible meanings and reflections on the world that we're living in — but that does not dictate in any way how people feel about it. I want them to be delivered over to their own sense of the world we're living. One of the important things about this play is that it releases a kind of trouble into the audience that they can't let go of — and, because they can't let that go, they keep asking questions about it."


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