Disgraced is impossible to ignore - theater review

Published By Tribute on Nov 17, 2017

Raoul Bhaneja and Birgitte Solem in Disgraced. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Disgraced follows five people living in New York City over a span of about nine months. It starts with Amir (Raoul Bhaneja), a corporate lawyer, and his wife Emily (Birgitte Solem), an artist, in their apartment.

Amir, who was raised Muslim but hasn’t followed the religion since his youth, has been asked by his nephew, who recently changed his name from Hussein to Abe, to support an imam who is facing charges of funding terrorism because he was raising funds for his mosque.

Amir’s white wife, Emily, pressures him into going to court to support the imam, and after an article about the case is written in the New York Times, it creates tension for Amir at the law firm where he is on track to become partner.

The case ends up as a conversation topic during a dinner the couple host for Amir’s co-worker Jory and her Jewish husband Isaac, who happens to curate a studio that is about to showcase Emily’s art, which is heavily inspired by Islamic traditions. The conversation’s focus quickly turns tense when race, as well as Islamic and Judaic traditions, reveal much about the four people.

Disgraced follows the nine-month span between the initial conversation about Amir supporting the imam, through the fallout in Amir’s life, stemming from the shame he feels about the religion he was brought up in.

The cast performed beautifully, with each actor’s passion for the piece evident. Opening night went perfectly -- even though Alex Poch-Goldin, who plays Isaac, had only a week of rehearsals prior to Disgraced’s opening night.

While there are humorous moments that are needed to break up the heaviness of the subject matter, Disgraced is a serious discussion of race and religion, particularly about Islam and Islamophobia. It is impossible to look away as tempers flare and deep-seated emotions rise. The simplicity of the sets and wardrobe gives the audience no choice but to focus on the words and emotions on display.

Disgraced is utterly captivating in a way most akin to how many can’t help but look at a car crash. You know the things in front of you are real and at times shocking and even hard to watch in some moments, but it's impossible to look away -- you need to know what’s going to happen next. It seems the length of the play at 90 minutes and the lack of intermission are deliberate -- any longer and the weight might be too much to bear -- but giving the audience a break would likely take away some of the impact.

Disgraced runs until November 26 at the Panasonic Theatre on Yonge Street. ~Hayley Michaud

Photo above by Cylla von Tiedemann.

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