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Kyra Zagorsky, Patrick Sabongui

The Arts Club Theatre Company opens its 2015-16 (and 52nd) season with a production of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Mr. Akhtar is a 45-year old award-winning American-born Pakistani actor and writer, raised in Minnesota with degrees in theatre and the arts from Columbia and Brown Universities.

Patrick Sabongui, Amir Conor Wylie  
[Patrick Sabongui, Amir Conor Wylie]

In Disgraced, 2013 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Arts Club Theatre Company has chosen an interesting, vitally engaging and relevant play, full of wit and intelligence, and backed up its choice with an excellent and professional cast and artistic team directed by Janet Wright.

Disgraced centers on Amir Kapoor (Patrick Sabongui), a high-powered corporate lawyer who has been hiding his Muslim origins from his Jewish bosses at work. When he’s persuaded by his artist wife Emily (Kyra Zagorsky) and nephew Abe/Husain (Conor Wylie) to assist in the defense of an imprisoned imam, his secret comes out. This sets in motion a series of actions that will ultimately tear his life apart.

The case becomes dinner conversation when he hosts Jory (Marci T. House), an African-American colleague from work and her Jewish husband Isaac (Robert Moloney), who is also Emily’s art dealer. Their conversation touches upon questions of migration, identity, race, and religion in 21st century America, covering Islamic and Judaic tradition, the Quran and the Talmud, racial profiling and 9/11, touching as well on the Taliban, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Marci T. House, Robert Moloney  
[Marci T. House, Robert Moloney]

Tensions of course usually mount anytime the topics of politics and religion are raised at social gatherings; at this particular dinner tensions are fueled by alcohol, aggravated by a bad day at the office and a sexual secret revealed. The evening results in two separate incidents that completely shock the audience and culminates in a disastrous ending for Amir.

The character of Amir personifies an examination of ourselves, our identity, and our own sense of tribalism, that is, of “us” versus “them”. In Amir’s situation, his is a tenuous self-image, leading to self-loathing, arising from being born and raised as a Muslim, but rejecting this background to totally embrace another life as a mainstream American.

Mr. Sabongui gives an impassioned, skillful performance in this complex role. Mr. Sabongui’s main co-stars, Kyra Zagorsky and Robert Moloney, also rise to the challenges of their roles. And, although their roles are not as substantial, both Marci T. House and Conor Wylie are solid performers.  

Kyra Zagorsky, Robert Moloney  
[Kyra Zagorsky, Robert Moloney]   

Since this play is set in New York, with the main character a Muslim, there is an accent on the Islamophobia in the United States and how radical Islam and the terrorism it inspires have affected the American public. I was looking to see in this play some relevance to Canada in general and Greater Vancouver in particular. In fact the background could almost have been pulled from current Canadian news headlines: the election debate on wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies, Canadian citizens going off to join ISIS, the arguments over bill C-51.  

Technical support provided a solid backdrop for the production. The set designed by Ted Roberts elegantly replicates a spacious apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, with a hint of a skyline and a balcony. The staging is complimented by an effective use of light effects by lighting designer Marsha Sibthorpe, especially to simulate night and daytime conditions. Costumes by Barbara Clayden are contemporary classic, with Ms. Zagorsky’s elegant dresses particularly noteworthy.

Disgraced is overall a very strong production and merited the standing ovation given by the audience at the conclusion of the evening.

Disgraced continues at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through October 18.

Photos by David Cooper.

About Our Contributor Michael Pigeon

Michael Pigeon

Michael is a long-time Vancouver resident who’s recently returned home after living abroad for over a decade. Michael enjoys reconnecting with Canadian culture through the Greater Vancouver theatre scene and being retired in a city that offers so many opportunities to live a healthy, engaged lifestyle.

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