slice of life

Syracuse Stage’s ‘Disgraced’ leaves audience members stunned and speechless

Courtesy of Syracuse Stage

"Disgraced" won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

As the lights went down on the Archbold Stage, audience members sat whispering to their fellow theatergoers and discussing what they had just seen. They couldn’t believe their eyes.

“Disgraced” opened at the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Complex on Friday and left a large portion of the audience searching for words. The 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning play details the story of a dinner party that escalates into a fierce debate over interpretations and the meaning of the Quran.

Amir, the protagonist, is a corporate lawyer in Manhattan that was raised Muslim, but has since suppressed his faith. He lives in a large, enviably furnished apartment with his wife, Emily, a rising artist. Where Amir rejects Islam as a “backward way of thinking and being,” Emily’s art draws on Islamic styles.

The couple hosts a dinner party for their guests, Isaac, an art curator interested in Emily’s work, and his wife Jory, a lawyer at the same firm as Amir. The conversation starts slow and quickly raises to a boil with the two men shouting across the stage, getting louder with each glass of Scotch.

From start to finish, the drama had the audience gasping and murmuring as the play escalated, building up to the question of whether Amir felt pride following the Sept. 11 attacks. His answer let to a complete breakdown on stage.

Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte, the actor who plays Amir, said the play left him broken. He said it takes him a while to come down from the high level of emotion he puts out on stage each night. The story, Guilarte said, is especially important at this time.

“This play asks a lot of questions, and we need to be talking about it right now,” Guilarte said.

Despite a turbulent end to the play, it started on a more mellow, comical note. The show opens with Amir posing for a painting for his wife. He is wearing a shirt, tie, suit coat and boxers. The pants-less Amir is being painted in the style of Diego Velázquez’ “Portrait of Juan de Pareja.” When the play ends, Amir is collapsed on the floor, staring at the painting of himself, while the same painting is being displayed to the audience on a canvas the full height of the stage.

Maddie Ince, a freshman acting major, said the movements between Amir and Emily were one of the most interesting parts of the play. She said the fear shown by Emily backing away from Amir mirrors his fear of Islam.

Kat Eaton, also a freshman acting major, said it was one of the most important pieces she had ever seen. Ince agreed with this claim.

“This is literally a piece that left me speechless,” Ince said, struggling to find words to describe her experience.

The intermission-less 90-minute show maintained high energy throughout. The slower introduction was defined by moments of comic relief including Isaac putting his glasses on after taking an excessive amount of time cleaning them, and Jory, a black woman, assuring her husband that she knows what racial profiling is.

However, the laughter was quickly shut down by moments of high tension with cutting words and slurs being thrown.

Guilarte said it is an important show about being “other,” and the consequences of how people treat each other.

“We go about our daily lives and we don’t think about it all the time — how we treat other people in terms of them being like us or not like us,” Guilarte said. “Sometimes when you focus on the differences, it leads to alienation.”

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