As a lawyer at a prominent Jewish firm who wears $600 designer shirts and has a stunning view of the Empire State Building from his Upper East Side New York City apartment, Amir Kapoor (Alex Purcell) appears to be living an idyllic life with his beautiful artist wife (Roya Shanks). The illusion is brutally shattered in Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” when a cordial dinner party erupts into a verbal and emotional war over religion, politics and culture.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play offers an eye-opening look at the cost of the American dream. What must one give up to achieve it, and are those sacrifices ever enough? What damage does the pursuit of the dream leave in its wake?

Amir’s nephew (Solar Ardebili) changes his first name from Hussein to Abe in an attempt to fit in, but Amir makes the ultimate sacrifice. He not only changes his Pakistani last name, Abdullah, to the common Punjabi name, Kapoor, but also changes his Social Security number and renounces his Islamic faith, culture and beliefs to avoid racial profiling.

While Amir outwardly condemns Islam, calling the Quran a “very long hate mail to humanity,” his white wife, Emily, offers a polarized view, naively romanticizing the Islamic faith and culture.

Portland Stage’s “Disgraced,” directed by Christopher Grabowski, artfully establishes Amir’s falsely idyllic life, showing cracks in the shiny veneer and subtly dropping clues to his ultimate downfall and disgrace.

The production is slick and powerful, instantly drawing the audience in with Anita Stewart’s gorgeous rendering of Amir and Emily’s apartment. The balcony view, seen through vaulted ceiling-high windows, is jaw-dropping and very realistic. It’s enchanting as daylight fades into night, bathing the city in lights.

There is a natural quality to the production, as if watching a real-life drama unfold between the characters. The air sizzled with electricity opening night as the friction built into a shocking explosion of violence.

Purcell and Shanks bring out the nuances of Akhtar’s script. Purcell’s Amir is like a rubber band, slowly stretched until his frayed nerves snap irreparably. Shanks’ Emily exudes an idolized love for Amir that, like her art, unintentionally patronizes Eastern culture.

Although Amir, an American-born Muslim, has taken extreme measures to assimilate into Western society, his Pakistani-born nephew repeatedly draws him back into the politics of Islam. Akhtar uses Abe to highlight the treatment of Muslims post-9/11, first having Abe entreat Amir to defend an imam accused of raising terrorist funds, and later having Abe come to Amir for help after being interrogated as a radical supporter.

Ardebili captures the plight of young Muslims living in the United States, allowing the audience to feel the internal tug-of-war between pride in heritage and fear over racial profiling.

Jonas Cohen and Robyn Payne round out the five-member cast as the play’s inflammatory party couple, Isaac and Jory. Isaac is the Jewish curator at the Whitney and Jory is Amir’s African-American colleague at the law firm. The husband and wife each bring their own racial baggage that fuels the tension that has been simmering throughout the play.

“Disgraced” is an emotionally charged play that takes a personalized look at contemporary hot-button issues. It addresses issues of old-world faith in the modern world and offers a heart-wrenching exploration of identity that reaches deeper than the color of one’s skin.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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