Preview: Disgraced (Mirvish)

disgraced-photoMirvish presents the Toronto premiere of Ayad Akhtar’s Pultizer Prize-winning play Disgraced

Mirvish is producing the Toronto premiere of Disgraced, a new play by Pakistani-American writer Ayad Akhtar that grapples with issues like politics, religion, Muslim-American identity and Islamophobia. Disgraced received critical acclaim in Chicago, London, and New York, won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and will be one of the most-produced plays in North America this season.

We asked actor Raoul Bhaneja, who plays the lead role of Amir, a few questions about the show:

Can you give us your one sentence tagline/description for the show?

A group of friends at a dinner party discuss, with devastating results, topics your mother told you to always avoid in mixed company; politics, race and religion.

The play has received critical acclaim in Chicago, London and New York, and won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. What is the aspect of Disgraced that you think sets it apart from other contemporary dramas?

Firstly, I think one has to acknowledge that this play is written by a Pakistani-American and will be the most produced play in America of the season. That fact alone sets it apart from most contemporary dramas and its wide and important appeal. The fact that it wrestles with our perceptions of Islam in Western society couldn’t be more topical or timely.

Is there an aspect of the show you think will especially resonate with Toronto audiences?

As much as this is an American play and it is set in New York City, we felt from the moment we saw it in November 2012 that this was a show almost as much about Toronto and other major western cities that are facing the challenges of assimilation and multiculturalism. That night we met with Ayad, the playwright and began the long process of bringing it to Toronto.

Can you tell us a bit about your character, Amir? What was your process for preparing for the role? How much are you able to draw from your own personal experience to inform your portrayal of the character?

Amir is a very successful corporate lawyer in Manhattan, who, for the sake of his career and his own complex relationship with his Muslim identity has changed his name to sound less identifiably Muslim. He is a character with a lot of secrets who is trying to hide who he is so he can attain a level of acceptance and success that might not be possible otherwise.

Being of South Asian decent, I was very much able to relate to the dynamic between being Indian or Pakistani and how that is both a point of pride and contention for South Asians even here in Canada, far away from our original homelands. Also being a person of mixed race, my mother is from Dublin Ireland, and being an actor, I have often struggled with the challenge of being perceived as a minority inside my industry. Perhaps restricting the kinds of roles I am considered for simply because of my last name. That has been a powerful point of relation in the show.

What are you hoping people will take away from the show?

The reason the play has had the success it has is not because it is an “issue play” but rather it is a “good play.”

A compelling plot with lots of twists and turns, humour and a kind of naturalism that is not often the domain of Canadian drama these days. I’m also excited that a play written by a diverse writer, giving voice to diverse actors is going to be presented on one of the city’s largest stages, in partnership with one of the largest producers of theatre in the country. I hope, even from the poster alone, audiences will see themselves reflected in a way that they don’t always on stage. I think it’s going to be a great night in the theatre.

Details:

  • Disgraced is playing from April 3 -17, 2016 at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto.
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., and Wednesday, April 13, at 2:00 p.m.
  • Tickets $39 – $89. Discounts for groups of 12 or more. Student Tickets $25 (one ticket per valid ID)
  • Tickets are available in person at any Mirvish theatre box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at Mirvish.com.

Photo of Karen Glave, Michael Rubenfeld, Raoul Bhaneja, Birgitte Solem, Ali Momen by Cylla von Tiedemann