By Dee Jae Cox
“I think that at its best, what the theater does is that it gathers us together. We social herding animals arrive together in a room and we behold something that actually happens before us. Not something mediated to us by a screen, but the presence of live performers, which harkens back to a kind of experience of ritual. An experience of one mind, one body, a kind of communion that happens in the audience between audience and performers, that allows us, reaches into us where we can experience things more deeply than we can individually.” —- Ayad Akhtar, Playwright
Akhtar has most certainly accomplished this sacred ritualistic communion that is theater, through the creation of his play, ‘Disgraced’ currently in production at the Coachella Valley Repertory in Rancho Mirage. In keeping with their season theme of “Love, Marriage and Life Changing Events,” CV Rep’s outstanding production of Disgraced, a 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner, is a reminder of why the art of theater has survived for two thousand years. There are few things that manage the euphoric high of a breathtaking drama that reaches into the soul and rips the heart out with words and ideas and human conflict.
Disgraced tells the post 9/11 story of a Pakastani American, Amir, poignantly portrayed by compelling actor, Arash Mokhtr, a Corporate Attorney who has renounced his faith but is unable to escape his Muslim identity. Though his family was more traditional, Amir considers himself “an apostate,” someone who has left both his religion and his native culture far behind. This is the internal conflict that seems to haunt his life choices. Amir’s wife Emily, Elizabeth Saydah, who performs this role with the perfect mix of strength and artistic grace, is an up and coming artist and is idealistically captivated by a moral sense of right and wrong in a world where the lines are never black and white, but instead muted shades of grey.
A dinner party with friends Isaac, (Joel Polis) and Jory (Mayla Lynne Robinson) a Jewish man and his African American wife bring a unique sense of style and depth to the stage and are at the heart of this gut wrenching conflict. Islamophobia, religion, politics and inescapable human foibles are what is on the menu for this dinner party and everyone’s lives are irrevocably changed by the evening’s end.
Though written a couple of years ago, this play could not be a more relevant reflection on contemporary culture. Akhtar’s script is critically profound and insightful. Coupled with Joanne Gordon’s direction, you would be hard pressed to find a more engaging and meaningful night of theater. Gordon’s staging and direction brings these characters together and shatters them apart in more than one gasp filled moment. We are given brief glimpses of tenderness and humor only to have them stolen away the next moment. CV Rep’s production of Disgraced, is a breathtaking ride that will leave you in search of your next theatrical fix.
The overall production value of this show is top quality. Jimmy Cuomo’s set design depicting an upscale New York Apartment and Aalsa Lee’s Costumes will take you to Manhattan and place you right in the midst of this drama.
Disgraced, is not a show for small children, but anyone over the age of 16 will appreciate the stellar performances and outstanding overall presentation of this play.
‘Disgraced,’ is in production at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre located at 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270 through April 2nd.
For Reservations: call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org
Dee Jae Cox is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project. www.californiawoman411.com.