Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Disgraced": A Most Depressing Play -- perhaps what the script writer intended

Wed Jan 25 I saw the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of "Disgraced," by Milwaukee native Ayad Akhtar. It is the most depressing play I have ever seen, a drama with absolutely no heroes whatsoever. That may indeed have been the playwright's intent, and if so, he did a great job. The actors also did an impressive job of bringing these characters to life. To fulfill believably roles that are so empty while living lives of luxury and status must take some serious work and determination.

Five characters , all bundles of disgusting stereotypes, start as friends and family and end utterly estranged from each other, for all kinds of stupid reasons, after an hour and twenty minutes of insipid dialogue. It is a salutary warning not to be like these characters.

One character is an American-born mergers and acquisitions lawyer whose parents came to the USA from Pakistan. He is by his own description an apostate Muslim, who dismisses Islam in language reminiscent of a good number of faux conservative Anglo-Americans. His wife is an American of European descent who is infatuated with Islamic art, and gushes about it in a shallow manner that would equally disgust a devout Muslim or an Islamophobe. Their dinner companions are a Jewish man who struts his criticisms of Israel, who organizes art exhibits and works with the lawyer's wife frequently, plus his African American wife who happens to be an attorney at the same mergers and acquisitions firm. What could possibly go right?

Oh, and there is the lawyer's nephew who changed his name from Hussein to Abraham to fit in, in America, but ends up wearing a Kufi and hating what America and the west have done to "our people," who mostly relates to "Aunt Ellen" as supportive family more than his apostate uncle.

To complete the devastation, the two artistes apparently had an affair in London, which is discovered toward the end of the dinner party, outraging both spouses. The whole scene breaks up in an orgy of self-hatred and mutual loathing.

It may well be true that there are people who live in worlds where the vapid nothings spouted by these characters are the stuff of daily life, conversation, and sense of self. In fact, its almost certainly true. I have little respect for a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, no matter what their race, religion, national origin, etc. I believe most mergers and acquisitions should be banned. I have little patience for long-winded oration about The Meaning of Art. Abstract art is a pretty colorful pattern, or its ugly. Realistic art depicts something, and what it depicts is what it is about. The cultural context from which a given art emerged is interesting, but doesn't change whether I would want it hanging on my wall or not.

I have a basic sense that the sacred texts of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, can all be used to justify horrific mass violence and persecution, or not, depending on the opportunistic motives of the interpreter. God, unfortunately, is not foremost in the minds of those who try to impose some version of The Faith on others.

Depending on how a viewer takes this play, the emotionally and ethically bloated characters presented could either be a clarion call to take some side or other, or, could be a warning that for all our sakes, we really must not be like these people... not that I or most people I know could ever think of buying $600 shirts. Its the possibility that what these characters say to each other could be taken seriously that bothers me.

But I entertain the hope that the playwright's intended message was, stop and think people, don't react to vapid slogans, don't view each other as common stereotypes, don't try to fit yourself into a neat little social category. Live your life, and relax a little with everyone else around you. That would be the best way to bounce back from the depressing experience of watching these characters taking themselves seriously.

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