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Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize Winner, “Disgraced,” Opens PRC’s 2015-16 Main-Stage Season Sept. 19th

Nicole Gabriella Scipione and Rajesh Bose star as Emily and her husband, Amir, in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of "Disgraced" (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Nicole Gabriella Scipione and Rajesh Bose star as Emily and her husband, Amir, in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of “Disgraced” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

PlayMakers Repertory Company will kick of its 40th main-stage season with Milwaukee, WI-born Pakistani-American playwright Ayad Akhtar’s award-winning 2012 Chicago, 2012 Off-Broadway, 2013 West End, and 2014 Broadway play, Disgraced. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s professional-theater-in-residence will preview the play on Sept. 16-18, officially open it on Sept. 19th, and then run it on Sept. 20 and 22-27 and Sept. 29-Oct. 4 in the Paul Green Theatre in the university’s Center for Dramatic Art.

The 2012 Off-Broadway production of Disgraced, which Variety characterizes as “a blistering social drama” and The New York Times claims “bristles with wit and intelligence,” won the 2013 OBIE Award for Playwriting and the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. (Charles Isherwood of The New York Times and David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter also numbered the play among their “Ten Best Plays of 2012.”) The subsequent 2014-15 Broadway production of the play was nominated for the 2015 Tony Award® for Best Play.

In her Variety review, Marilyn Stasio wrote, “Playwright Ayad Akhtar really sticks it to upper-class liberals in Disgraced, his blistering social drama about the racial prejudices that secretly persist in progressive cultural circles. When the Muslim heritage of a successful corporate lawyer is revealed, his friends and colleagues claim to think nothing of it. But all it takes is one intimate dinner party for that disingenuous claim to go up in flames….”

David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter raved, “Ayad Akhtar staked a claim as one of the boldest voices to appear on the playwriting scene in recent years with this stinging swipe at the fallacy of the post-racial nation. Piloted by a prickly yet surprisingly vulnerable characterization from Aasif Mandvi (a correspondent on ‘The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’) as a corporate lawyer tainted by his reluctant association with a persecuted imam, the provocative play explores faith and social politics, touching on radical Islam, terrorism, and presciently, even gun laws. As witty as it is confronting, this hot-tempered one-act gets under the skin in ways that often elude more overtly topical forays into similar territory.”

Charles Isherwood of The New York Times added, “Ayad Akhtar’s incendiary drama had its schematic aspects: assemble one former Muslim, one African-American, one Jew and one WASP at a dinner table. Add the hot-button topic of religious faith — particularly the rise of Islamism — stir, and watch as things come to a boil. But Mr. Akhtar’s trenchantly funny dialogue, and excellent performances from a cast led by the ‘Daily Show’ correspondent Aasif Mandvi, helped the production transcend the play’s contrivances, to make it one of the most provocative nights at the theater.”

"Disgraced" stars (from left) Nicole Gabriella Scipione as Emily, Rajesh Bose as Amir, Benjamin Curns as Isaac, and Rasool Jahan as Jory (photo by Jon Gardiner)

“Disgraced” stars (from left) Nicole Gabriella Scipione as Emily, Rajesh Bose as Amir, Benjamin Curns as Isaac, and Rasool Jahan as Jory (photo by Jon Gardiner)

“I [first] read Disgraced last year when [then PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director] Joe Haj asked me to direct the play,” says Bombay, India-born, Los Angeles, CA-based guest director Shishir Kurup. “We had both worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival before, working there again this year, and had known of each other when we were coming up in the more alternative-theater scene, working with some of the same directors.

“So, when [Haj] invited me to come to Chapel Hill to direct this play, I was more than happy to oblige, and am very glad I did, given the caliber, creativity, and thoughtfulness of the people who run PlayMakers,” says Kurup.

He adds, “[Disgraced] doesn’t shy away from the challenging and provocative questions of co-existence in the United States with its celebration of diversity and requisite fallout of that hybridity; namely, a culture where people feel like they belong everywhere while also feeling like they belong nowhere. Disgraced examines what it means to be part of a culture that considers itself a free society as it pulls back the curtain on the nascent racial and cultural differences that create barriers and inequities that burble just beneath the surface of the American psyche.

“[The play] looks at the clash of cultures and the misunderstandings that occur in a society that touts the notion of tolerance, and even acceptance, while also struggling to have an authentic experience of the ‘other,’ who are constantly vying for recognition and belonging in the greater mainstream of this society,” says Shishir Kurup.

Kurup says, “I wanted to direct this play because it spoke to a lot of the kind of work I’ve done over my career, namely that I have always been interested in the exotic being put on the stage in the hope that the mainstream could recognize itself in the exotic. And [in] that nexus where the ‘one’ meets the ‘other’ lies the possibility of hope.”

"Disgraced" stars (from left) Benjamin Curns as Isaac, Rasool Jahan as Jory, Rajesh Bose as Amir, and Nicole Gabriella Scipione as Emily (photo by Jon Gardiner)

“Disgraced” stars (from left) Benjamin Curns as Isaac, Rasool Jahan as Jory, Rajesh Bose as Amir, and Nicole Gabriella Scipione as Emily (photo by Jon Gardiner)

When the curtain rises on Disgraced, says director Shishir Kurup, “A lawyer of South Asian descent who is vying for partner at the high-powered firm [Rajesh Bose as Amir Kapoor] is met with a challenge when his wife [Emily, played by Nicole Gabriella Scipione] and nephew [Abe, played by Samip Raval] ask him to look into the case of a Muslim clergyman, an Imam. His wife, an artist who is just starting to make a name for herself professionally, finds herself with the opportunity of a lifetime to have her biggest showing yet.

“Her husband’s close friend at the law firm, an African-American woman [Rasool Jahan as Jory], who is married to an influential museum curator [Benjamin Curns as Isaac], helps to arrange a weekend in Bucks County, so they can all get acquainted. Meanwhile, the artist’s lawyer-husband runs into trouble with his firm for looking into the Imam’s case. The repercussions come to a head at a dinner party thrown by the artist and lawyer for the curator and his wife,” Kurup explains.

He adds, “This play was clearly written for a proscenium, and PlayMakers is a deep thrust stage, one of the more challenging kinds of spaces to stage. The actors and director have to always keep in mind the challenges of sight lines due to the audience surrounding three quarters of the set. [The Paul Green Theatre’s stage is i]ntimate for the audience, but not necessarily conducive to transforming the action to deep thrust from proscenium and achieving the intent of some of the stage directions. So, much of that has to be abandoned in favor of something more intrinsic and organic to this kind of stage and gives the creative team more license to be theatrical and inventive.”

In addition to guest director Shishir Kurup, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Disgraced includes production manager Michael Rolleri, assistant to the director Jerome Allen, scenic designer Nephelie Andonyadis, lighting designer Geoff Korf, costume designer Grier Coleman, sound designer/composer Bruno Louchouarn, vocal coach John Patrick, dramaturg Jacqueline E. Lawton, stage manager Charles K. Bayang, and assistant stage manager Hannah-Jean Farris.

Samip Raval (left) and Rajesh Bose star as Abe and Amir in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s presentation of "Disgraced" (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Samip Raval (left) and Rajesh Bose star as Abe and Amir in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s presentation of “Disgraced” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Director Shishir Kurup says the show’s set is “A pre-war upper East Side, Manhattan Apartment living room, with a couch and coffee table on one corner and the dining table on the opposite corner.” He adds, “Across from the couch is a window-seat bookshelf, up center a fireplace with two doors on each side of the fireplace, one leading to the kitchen and that swings through and on the other side a hallway leading to the bedroom.

“[There are b]eautiful parquet floors of an intricate design,” says Kurup. “On the upstage wall a soffit with recessed lighting and a ceiling piece above. In the up right corner is an elegant rolling bar with alcohol; and in the up left corner, a small side stand with the statue of the Hindu God Shiva.”

Kurup says, the show’s costumes are “Modern, sumptuous in keeping with the lifestyle of our protagonists, a lawyer who wears $600 Egyptian cotton shirts from Charvet and his artist wife who is starting to get shown in bigger galleries.” He adds, “The costumes also mark the seasons that pass; and in this case, [that] covers the span of a little over nine months.”

Shishir Kurup notes, “The interior of a posh but minimalist New York City apartment and the light that comes in that suggests streaming daylight for half of the play and the evening for the other half. It also takes into account the passing of the seasons and the light that accompanies that, along with practical lamps and the sense of Manhattan night lighting that streams into the apartment.”

“The configuration of the thrust staging has led to some interesting discoveries, and so the creative license we’ve taken to tell the story in the most cogent way we think possible has been a joy to discover and present to you, and we hope that it also helps illuminate the play in a provocative, theatrical, and delightful way,” says PlayMakers Repertory Company’s Indian-American guest director, Shishir Kurup.

SECOND OPINION: Sept. 16th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/disgraced/Event?oid=4716854; and Sept. 15th Chapel Hill, NC WCHL/Chapelboro interview with director Shishir Kurup, conducted by Aaron Keck: http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/playmakers-opens-mainstage-season-with-disgraced/.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents DISGRACED at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16-18 Previews, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 Opening Night, 2 p.m. Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22-25, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3, and 2 p.m. Oct. 4 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15 and up ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcgroups@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.

SHOW: http://www.playmakersrep.org/disgraced.

NEWS RELEASE: http://www.playmakersrep.org/media/story.aspx?id=be53dfa2-d6c3-4500-b68f-c4ce7ddb5f0f.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: From 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19th, PlayMakers Rep and the UNC Program in the Humanities will present a program entitled “American Muslims and Immigration Identities,” co-sponsored by the UNC General Alumni Association. Click here for costs and other details.

NOTE 3: There will be an All-Access Performance performance, with sign-language interpretation and audio description by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd.

NOTE 4: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23rd, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27th, performances.

NOTE 5: From 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27th, in the Center for Dramatic Art, the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations will sponsor a FREE performance of the play and program for secondary educators entitled “Disgraced: A Workshop for Educators on Muslim American Identities.” Secondary educators may register for this FREE play performance and workshop by e-mailing Emma Harver at harver@email.unc.edu.

NOTE 6: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3rd (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).

NOTE 7: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3rd, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4th, performances.

OTHER LINKS:

Disgraced (2012 Chicago, 2012 Off-Broadway, 2013 West End, and 2014 Broadway play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/47355/disgraced (Samuel French), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=497476 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disgraced (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books). 

Ayad Akhtar (playwright): http://ayadakhtar.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=494629 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1628370/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/AyadAkhtar (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/ayadakhtar (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayad_Akhtar (Wikipedia).

Shishir Kurup (Los Angeles, CA director): http://www.shishirkurup.com/ (official website), http://www.playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=87289431-4aa7-4388-a1b7-431ff3aba434 (PlayMakers Rep bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0476094/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/shishir.kurup (Facebook page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shishir_Kurup (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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