Dinner parties that disintegrate into angry disasters are found in many plays. But there’s never been a dining room debacle quite like the one in “Disgraced,” the recent Pulitzer-winning drama getting its first Sacramento production at Capital Stage.
The dinner party in this play involves affluent, educated New Yorkers -- two couples who are professional colleagues. Amir is a successful lawyer of Pakistani heritage, with mixed feelings about the Islamic faith he grew up with. His wife Emily is a white American painter. Isaac is an influential art dealer from a Jewish family. And Isaac’s wife Jory is an African American attorney, who works at the same firm as Amir.
The conversation takes a turn when Amir tells his dinner guests about how he deals with airport security when he flies. He goes right up to the agents and offers himself up for a search. “I know they’re looking at me… I figure, why not make it easier for everyone involved?” he says.
Amir concedes that “the next terrorist attack is probably going to come from a guy who more or less looks like me.” His wife disagrees, saying the next attack will come “from some white guy who’s got a guy he shouldn’t have.” Isaac says “if every person of Middle Eastern descent started doing what you’re doing, and we all got used to that kind of compliance, we might start getting a little too comfortable with our suspicions.”
“So you DO have suspicions?” Amir shoots back.
“Not me!” Isaac says uncertainly.
Amir then draws a certain comparison that doesn’t sit well with Isaac, saying “I’m sure it’s not all that different than how you feel about Israel sometimes.”
That sets off Isaac. The tension escalates and these friends engage in a fierce exchange about hot button issues, from Islamophobia to the Taliban, and from religion to racial favoritism. Accusations fly, slashing words are shouted, things spin out of control. At least one marriage explodes, and careers are wrecked.
It’s scary to witness, like passing uncomfortably close to a flame. But the dialog is so compelling, and the questions raised are so deep and moving, that you can’t stop watching. This deeply provocative 90-minute drama sketches a probing portrait of our daily lives and half-conscious inward fears. It challenges the way we think about our complicated world, and how much we really understand it. Little wonder this powerful script received a Pulitzer Prize. Capital Stage mounts it with an excellent cast, building the tension to a climax that is stunning, literally. It certainly took my breath away.
“Disgraced” continues at Sacramento’s Capital Stage through June 5.