Farmers Alley Puts On Pulitzer Prize Winning Play 'Disgraced'

Nov 3, 2016

From left to right: Actors Damien Seperi, Bianca Washington, Mitchell Koory, and Kate Thomsen
Credit Katherine Nofs

“It’s intense, it’s psychological, it’s honest, it’s forthright and provocative," says D. Terry Williams, director of Farmers Alley Theatre’s production of Disgraced. The play opens Friday, November 4th at Western Michigan University's Little Theatre.

Williams says it’s the Michigan premiere for the Pulitzer Prize winning play. 

“In the last two years it’s the most produced play in the regional theatre movement in our country,”  he says.

Disgraced gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to be Muslim in a post 9/11 world. The play deals with stereotypes - but Ayad Akhtar’s play isn’t black and white. You don’t always side with who you think you would.

Williams says Akhtar made his main character - a flawed lawyer named Amir - a little like him. Akhtar is a Pakistani-American - and like Amir in the play - renounced his faith in Islam for a time.

“I think writing this play made it possible for him to reflect on that period in his life and the conflict that he went through and that the major character in this play is also going through,” says Williams.

When his nephew asks him to defend a Muslim religious leader in court, he’s nervous. His firm seems suspicious of him - he's on-edge. So what better time for Amir and his wife to host a dinner party?

Amir's wife, Emily is white and not a Muslim but she makes paintings inspired by Islamic art. 

“She sort of sees her inspiration from Islam the way we draw on Greeks, the way we draw on Romans - that there is a cultural heritage that is universal and not ethnic,” says Kalamazoo actress Kate Thomsen, who plays the role of Emily.

Emily is hoping her work will impress gallery owner Isaac, whose wife, Jory, works with Amir. Isaac is Jewish. Jory is African American. The party starts out well enough, but a few drinks later the couples start to get into those topics best left out of dinner conversation - politics and religion.

At one point Amir calls the Quran "one very long hate mail letter to humanity." Things only go downhill from there.

San Francisco actor Damien Seperi plays Amir. He says at times the play can make the audience feel very uncomfortable - just like the characters at the dinner party. 

“And it doesn’t give you any definitive answers," he says. "It’s like a good work of philosophy or a good philosopher. They raise a lot of good questions but they don’t answer them for you - and I feel like this play does that really well.”

Detroit actor Mitchell Koory plays Isaac. He says the play is all of these things, but it’s also highly entertaining:

“That speaks to a playwright in that he’s been able to incorporate all of these big ideas and yet, at the same time we have quite a bit of humor - especially early on. In many cases these ideas are being talked about not in an academic way, but in a conversational way. So it’s the kind of thing that these are smart people who’ve thought about what they’re talking about. But at the same time, the subjects are a lot less important than the interactions between characters and that’s what makes it so accessible too.”

Director D. Terry Williams says it was important that the play have a multicultural cast. Unlike their characters at times, the cast gets along swimmingly.

“So just the magic of theater alone - the fact that we have five people that have never met before that can work on this intimate and thrilling a play,” says Mitchell Koory.

Los Angeles actor Joey Vahedi plays Amir’s nephew Abe. He says come to the play with an open mind and if you want to talk about it, stay for the talk-backs after the Saturday performance.

There is some language and mature themes in the play, so leave your kids at home. Due to construction on Farmers Alley, performances will be held at Western Michigan University’s Little Theatre.