Amir Kapoor, the character at the heart of “Disgraced,” is not a stereotypical Muslim American.
For one thing, he isn’t even really a Muslim. Although he was raised in the faith, he denounces it now. Does that shield him from the suspicion that so many Muslims face in today’s America? Of course not.
Portrayed by actor Usman Ally with a turbulent clash of feelings, Amir is fighting to break free of the way he’s defined by other people—including Muslim Americans as well as non-Muslims. That struggle is at the heart of Ayad Akhtar’s drama, which Kimberly Senior is directing now in an emotionally taut production at American Theater Company. It’s a short play (a mere 70 minutes), but it isn’t slight. The characters are fully realized, thanks to the cast’s subtle performances and the thoughtful script by Akhtar (who also wrote the recently acclaimed novel “American Dervish”).
With his expressive eyes and eyebrows constantly hinting at the thoughts and emotions behind his character’s façade, Ally is the focal point. Lee Stark plays Amir’s wife, Emily, with natural ease. Although Emily isn’t Muslim, she seems to be even more interested in the religion than he is, coming at it from an outsider’s perspective. At one key dramatic point in the play, Stark’s face flushes pink with surprise and shock—a visceral reaction that feels utterly authentic—and the tension is palpable from that moment until the visually striking final scene.
Behzad Dabu, Alana Arenas and Benim Foster round out the cast, each bringing fine detail to smaller roles. Their conversations and arguments onstage should spark plenty of debate afterward among audience members attending “Disgraced.”
“Disgraced” continues through February 26 at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron, Chicago. For tickets and details, call 773-409-4125 or visit atcweb.org.