Monday, December 29, 2014

"Disgraced"

I used to get into all kinds of trouble with the theatre reviews on my website, back in the 1990’s, before the hideous word “blog” had even been invented.

I miss all that.  It was fun.  Let me roll up my sleeves and get into some trouble again.

DISGRACED

DISGRACED is the sort of crudely schematic play designed to vent the playwright’s message, and he never lets you forget it.  And it’s hard to give a fuck about a play that’s about something you don’t give a fuck about, and which doesn’t make you give a fuck about what it’s about that you don’t give a fuck about. 

Rave reviews and numerous awards, including a little gadget called the Pulitzer Prize, greeted this one-act by Ayad Akhtar.  Less well-known is the raft of negative-to-positively-hostile readers’ comments which greeted Charles Isherwood’s near-total rave in the New York Times upon the play’s arrival on Broadway in October, 2014.

It’s hard to give a fuck about a character who does something in the plot so obviously dumb-fucking stupid that he deserves his fate; the audience doesn’t think, “Oh how perfectly DREADFUL they did that to him!” – they think, “Well, what kind of idiot would do that?”  And the fact that the character is rich and magnificently good-looking doesn’t add to the sympathy factor.

You know, it’s the basic self-loathing Muslim-Pakistani married to an Aryan-from-Darien beautiful WASP-y wife, and the loquacious rich Jew married to the over-achieving black dame (heavily blackted by Karen Pittman, either by choice or direction, with the predictable cheap laughs that blackting always inspires from hip, nearly all-white expensive Broadway audiences.)  There you have it – a merry quartet just screaming “We’re Interracial six ways to Sunday, complications will ensue!”  I don’t believe in coincidences, in life or on stage.  If such an exactly interlocking interracial quartet were the four guests at MY dinner party, you might think I’d planned something weird.  If they show up in somebody’s play, you might think the same thing.

I hugely admired the performance of Hari Dhillon in the lead role, even after he regrettably put on his pants, and he elevated the Erector-Set script to watchable status.  Gretchen Mol is perfect-looking to a fault, lacking distinguishing features in appearance, demeanor, and material as the Aryan-From-Darien; but I feel a strong director and writer could have given her some dynamism.  (She has to deliver the play’s worst line to her former lover, and perhaps the worst line heard on Broadway this season:  “That Monday in London was a mistake.”)  Apparently there is a serious shortage of Indian-looking New York actors, resulting in the importation of Danny Ashok from Britain to overplay the quintessential passionate young Muslim with an author-sized chip on his shoulder.  Josh Radnor is proficient and unsurprising as the quintessential Jewish New York art gallery owner, babbling about contemporary art and Islam (which, COINCIDENTALLY, is what the playwright wants to go on about.)

Not unlike David Mamet’s OLEANNA, the play’s climax features the lead character erupting in the same violent behavior with which he most wants to disassociate himself (the playwright took his daily irony pill) – and for this moment, one can only wish the 16 producing organizations over the title had hired fight-choreographer-par-excellence Rick Sordelet, rather than a contraption called “Unkledave’s Fight-House,” which or who staged the unaccountably silent, remarkably under-powered results you might expect from such a dubiously-named outfit.


Oh, note to adulterers: when you’re going to steal a kiss, you might not want to do it when your respective spouses have gone out for a few minutes and are about to walk in the door on you and freak out.  People might think you’re idiots in a badly-written play.

© 2014 Fred Barton

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