27 Nov A Theatrical Review by a Mixed-Race, Muslim Female in Singapore
Synopsis: Set in an Upper-East Side apartment in New York City, with sunlight filtering through the floor-to-ceiling windows, Amir Kapoor is living the American Dream. He’s a successful lawyer with a beautiful American wife, and together they indulge in a luxurious lifestyle. However things don’t look so glossy when Amir addresses his renounced religion, Islam, and things get heated when he debates race, religion and politics during a celebratory dinner with his African-American Colleague and her Jewish art curator husband.
Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar first made its theatrical debut in Chicago, 2012. Since then it has been staged across America and in several stages around the world, becoming a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2013 and a Tony Award Nominee in 2015.
Now, it has finally reached our shores here in Singapore and in a very timely manner at that. With racial and religious tensions escalating worldwide, Brexit, and now a Trump presidency, it is time we addressed difficult aspects of acceptance, tolerance and identity negotiation in our own multi-cultural society.
These issues may seem far removed and irrelevant to us in the Little Red Dot, but trust me, watch this play and participate in the dialogue afterwards. Directed by Nate Silver, the play touches each viewer deeply by confronting identity struggles that anyone can relate to. Throughout the play you’ll hear the audience erupt in candid laughter, try to stifle gasps and buzz in quiet whispers engaged in heated discussion. You are sure to find an aspect of the various characters that you resonate with.
The main character Amir, played by SRT’s Artistic Director, Gaurav Kripalini, clearly portrays an individual conflicted by his own double consciousness. Amir is a renounced Muslim of South-Asian origin who constantly critically gazes upon his own identity from an outsider’s perspective, worrying about how it may jeopardise his career and social standing. Post 9/11, he internalises the deep scorn that society has for Muslims and himself becomes overtly critical of Islam, which the other characters are quick to point out stems from his own self-hatred. On the other hand, having suppressed his identity for so long, Amir feels a dangerous sense of pride when the tragedy of 9/11 occurs as it showcases Muslim power. This scary but important aspect of Amir’s character is crucial to our understanding of what could possibly drives some Muslims today towards joining extremist groups and acting out violently. They feel so alienated and hated by society that they turn to a source of comfort and acceptance. These are realities we have to face and address.
Meanwhile, his wife Emily, portrayed beautifully by Jennifer Coombs, personifies the empathetic, privileged white advocate. She argues for and defends an Imam wrongfully charged, she debates with anyone who will listen about Islamic culture, art and its contribution to the world and even contests the interpretations of verses of the Quran with her husband, a renounced Muslim. LaNisa Frederick’s Jory stereotypically represents the empowered feminist of a minority race, challenging gender norms at home and at work; however, she cannot understand why any woman would choose to wear the veil.
What is interesting is that the roles of the different characters take on are unexpected and not stereotypical at all. They are intentionally multi-faceted in a way that will surprise the audience. The proponents of Islam are white, while the opponent is Amir, a renounced Muslim. Jory is an empowered woman of a minority race yet she imposes her views of dressing and identity on other minority women, in this case, Muslim women. In the post-show dialogue (that happens after every show), one audience member admitted to feeling ‘awkward’ while watching the show. Since she was neither Muslim nor a member of a minority race, being presented with such brutally honest and extreme views by the diverse characters was an invasive experience that forced her to address the quiet murmurs in her own mind.
As a woman, as an individual who doesn’t really belong in any racial category and as a Muslim in Singapore, this play touched me in so many aspects of my identity. As a Muslim I admit I was squirming in my seat, because I was forced to come face to face with my own emotions. I identified with the emotions of Jory, Emily and even Amir, and have had those extreme feelings of others expressed towards me as well. We think we live in a peaceful and neutral society but the reality is, it never truly is neutral. Everyone has murmurs deep in the back of their minds. These dialogues need to happen. Trump’s presidency highlights how separated people truly feel inside – the fears, and insecurities that need to be addressed through dialogue to bring people back together. Without dialogue we can never come to a common understanding of one another. So thank you, SRT for bringing Disgraced to Singapore because it’s about time we had this necessary conversation in our society.
Buy your tickets here: http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/cgrace1116
Nazreen Nasser is the Co-Founder of Beadlebug Jewellery, a social enterprise dedicated to causes such as refugee aid and female empowerment. She is a Sociology graduate who is passionate about social justice, advocacy and culture.