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This story first appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
“It’s OK — if one of us should fall, it should be me!” jokes playwright Ayad Akhtar, leaning precariously over a balcony railing before posing for a photo with his play’s marquee draws, Gretchen Mol, 41, and Josh Radnor, 40. As they horse around, one wouldn’t guess that Akhtar’s Pulitzer-winning Disgraced contains some of the most challenging scenes on Broadway this year.
At its center is Amir (Hari Dhillon), a Pakistani-American lawyer who’s been passing as Indian-American (and Hindu) with his Jewish colleagues, even as his wife (Mol) encourages him to explore his Muslim heritage. A clash with a dinner guest (Radnor) brings Amir’s identity conflicts (he even admits to a tiny swell of pride on 9/11) to a violent climax.
“Disgraced explores what’s happening in this country … the naked sort of racism that is beginning to emerge in the social media sphere. It gives us a window into an aspect of the American psyche that perhaps folks don’t like looking at,” says Akhtar, 43, who was born in Staten Island to Pakistani parents and raised in Milwaukee.
“The live audience completes a circle and flow you can’t get with TV or film,” he adds. “What happens between the audience and actors — and among the audience — mirrors what’s going on onstage, and that’s a special thing.”
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