Ayad Akhtar
Bush Theatre, London

Hari Dhillon (Amir) and Kirsty Bushell (Emily) Credit: Simon Kane
Hari Dhillon (Amir), Sara Powell (Jory), Nigel Whitmey (Isaac) and Kirsty Bushell (Emily) Credit: Simon Kane
Kirsty Bushell (Emily) and Hari Dhillon (Amir) Credit: Simon Kane

The Bush struck lucky when it secured the right to produce this play, originally seen at the Lincoln Center's LCT3 theatre. In the interim, Disgraced has given Ayad Akhtar the accolade of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

That is a recognition of the important issues that he attempts to address and, in particular, the confused Muslim experience in America today.

At times though, the plotting comes over as intellectualised soap opera with every one of the five characters lacking coherency of thought as they are used to convey messages as mixed as their backgrounds.

The protagonist in Nadia Fall's production is Hari Dhillon playing Amir, a successful and highly ambitious, young corporate lawyer who denies his second generation Pakistani descent.

This well-heeled master of the universe luck stretches beyond the business world and as far as Emily, an attractive wife who shares their oversized upper East Side apartment, which is adorned with her artistic creations.

Kirsty Bushell's character is a painter talented enough to be talked of for an exhibit at the Whitney but, more importantly for the plot, she also has the passion for Islamic matters that Amir eschews in his attempts to become a fully-assimilated New Yorker.

The key incident in the 90-minute drama occurs early, when she persuades her loving husband to act out of character and speak up for a troublesome, imprisoned imam, despite the fact that Amir does not have the necessary special qualifications and experience to do so.

Before that, the latter-day Desdemona has painted her jealous Othello as a post-Velasquez Moor, indicating that his fate will be tragic, at least in the modern sense.

The story and debate are both fired up by the arrival of a kind of very touchy reverse pairing. This comprises Amir's Black legal colleague Jory and her Jewish art curator husband Isaac, respectively played by Sara Powell and Nigel Whitmey.

With some effort, they fire up a series of explosive topics, including adultery, careerism and religious intolerance of various brands.

By the end of a dinner party that doesn't even make it to the symbolic pork entrée, Amir has been shaken and stirred to such a degree that his life (and by extension Emily's) will never be the same again.

Ayad Akhtar is a prize-winning novelist who clearly cares deeply about his subject and is determined to get out enough messages into this compact work for about three plays of the same length. He clearly has talent and passion but much greater clarity of thought and purpose would make a big difference when he is writing for the stage.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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