The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi is the compelling star of an Off Broadway drama about a lapsed Muslim yuppie in post-9/11 Manhattan
Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar’s topical drama at Lincoln Center Theater’s Off Broadway Claire Tow Theater, is the latest in a long American theater tradition exploring the costs of assimilation by minority groups in the great American melting pot. At its center is Amir Kapoor (The Daily Show alum Aasif Mandvi), a Pakistani-American mergers & acquisitions lawyer living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with his blonde wife, Emily (Heidi Armbruster). Amir is a man of complications and contradictions. He’s rejected his Muslim upbringing (and even his surname) to better assimilate into his law firm, but he still feels the occasional tug of Islam. And his wife, a painter who’s drawn to the rich traditions of Islamic art, nudges Amir to more openly embrace the heritage that serves as her artistic muse.
But when Amir is nudged into attending a hearing for his nephew’s imam, jailed on perhaps trumped-up charges of financing terrorist-supporting groups, the resulting publicity leads to sharp consequences and his standing at his firm. Akhtar piles on additional conflicts, both domestic and professional, culminating in a fraught dinner party with Emily’s Jewish art dealer, Isaac (Erik Jensen), and Isaac’s African American wife, Jory (Karen Pittman), a lawyer in Amir’s firm who’s also vying for partnership.
Akhtar packs a lot into his scenes, in terms of both coincidence-heavy personal drama and talky disquisitions on religion and politics, but he usually manages to pull back from the edge of too-muchness. There is an admirable restraint to director Kimberly Senior’s well-paced scenes. Mandvi, best known for his comedy, has a surprisingly commanding stage presence and captures the full range of his character’s internal conflicts. While the ending seems a bit underdeveloped and tossed-off, Disgraced offers an engaging snapshot of the challenge for upwardly mobile Islamic Americans in the post-9/11 age. B+
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)