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

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09 Aug 2014

This same understanding (and sometime misunderstanding) of what it means to be Muslim in America is a narrative that is carried out in Akhtar's other work. His 2012 novel, "American Dervish," centers on a Pakistani-American boy growing up in Milwaukee. His play, The Who and the What, which wrapped up a run last month at Lincoln Center Theater's Claire Tow Theater (also where Disgraced debuted), follows a Pakistani immigrant struggling to pass on his devout Islamic faith to his two assimilated grown daughters. Akhtar's upcoming play, The Invisible Hand, about an American hostage in Pakistan, will make its debut this December at New York Theatre Workshop.

And while all of Akhtar's written work does a good job of stirring up discussion about the lives of Muslim-Americans today, Akhtar says he doesn't set out to give definitive answers to multifaceted questions. "I don't think the complex geopolitics and identity politics and ethnic politics that are at play in the world today can be solved in a play," says Akhtar. "I don't think you can comment in any comprehensive way on them in a play, but you can depict people grappling with those questions.

"The Great American Story is rupture and renewal — rupture from the Old World, renewal in the New World of the self. Even so many generations in, Americans are still doing that. They are rupturing from their primary families, moving to other coasts, forming surrogate families and surrogate communities. That process of renewal of the self through rupture is the American story, in many ways."

For Akhtar's Disgraced protagonist, the dangers of denying his racial and religious inheritance are writ large. "Amir is not allowed to do that. He's not allowed to because — in a post-9/11 landscape — his being Muslim, even if it's only by origin, marks him. In a way the play is also a meditation of the failure of the American dream for this particular individual. He's got it all, and, yet, somehow it's predicated on a lie that he will not be allowed to continue to live. If he could've, he would've."

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