By Jamie Zachary
New to the Martha Cohen Theatre this month is the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Disgraced, a “taut, engrossing and powerful” dinner party debate about race, privilege, politics and identity.
The second play of the 2019-20 season for Alberta Theatre Projects follows Amir Kapoor (Shawn Lall), a successful Pakistani-American lawyer living on the Upper East side of Manhattan. He has also turned his back on his Muslim heritage.
When he and his wife Emily (Sasha Barry) host a dinner party for Amir’s rising African-American colleague Jory (Samantha Walkes) and her Jewish husband Isaac (Tyrell Crews) the evening gives way to a searing conversation where nothing is off limits. On the periphery is Kapoor’s nephew Abe (Hamed Dar), who, unlike his uncle, is very committed to his faith and lending support to a local Imam on trial.
Dar, who is making is hometown debut, recently shared his experiences as Abe, including how he prepared for a role that he describes as “life-altering.”
You just wrapped up the opening weekend of Disgraced. How did it go?
It’s my first time on a stage like this, so for me it was a magical experience. The reception was great. The crowd loved it. They left with a lot to think about.
Is a thought-provoking experience what crowds should expect?
Absolutely. The play either pushes them to the edge of their seats or to the back. When the dialogue ramps up, it’s riveting. Yet when those darker moments come, you can feel the audience shrinking back into themselves.
What’s it been like bringing Abe to life?
Playing him has been dramatically life-altering – just seeing a different side of a faith that I don’t believe in myself. Although I’m not Muslim, I grew up in that faith environment. Abe is someone who is torn between living in the West while still having the values of the East. It’s like he’s trying to put a crescent-shaped moon inside the maple leaf, and the pieces just don’t fit.
At the same time, I’ve lived through racism, especially after 9/11. I’ve had rocks thrown at my cars. I’ve been called a terrorist. I’ve experienced many of those things growing up. So, it’s not hard to find the anger and rage that Abe feels because these are lived experiences for me.
How do you prepare audiences for Disgraced?
Don’t come in with any expectation of it being controversial. This isn’t shock theatre. It’s a play about coming in and listening as best as you can with an open heart and an open mind, and leaving with these questions percolating. It’s about five individuals who are hurting – just like anyone in the audience might have been hurt in their lives.
Can heavy topics like this still be entertaining?
Absolutely. The play is riveting. It’s fast paced. It’s got some great dialogue, great punchlines and can be super funny. The characters are all likeable, so when their pain manifests, it’s all the more painful to watch. But there is also a sense of hope woven through the play. Maybe not in the way an Avengers movie might make you feel, but it’s a feeling that, because we’re talking about this, there’s hope it’s going to get better.
Photo credit: Hamed Dar with Shawn Lall and Sasha Barry in Disgraced. Photo by Benjamin Laird. Set Design by Scott Reid, Lighting Design by Narda McCarroll, Costume Design by Melissa Mitchell.