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From left: Kripalani, Coombs, Jenkins and Frederick star in Disgraced. The play brims with relevant issues for the Singapore audience.

Swimming against the tide of circumstance

Nov 25, 2016 5:50 AM

DISGRACED, the new play by Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT), could not be timelier. It discusses race, religion, politics, history and identity at a time when the views of US President-elect Donald Trump on those very issues are stirring controversy around the world.

The Pulitzer-winning play from 2012, written by Ayad Akhtar, centres on successful South Asian lawyer Amir Kapoor who has a good chance of being made partner in his predominantly-Jewish New York law firm.

For years, Amir (played by Gaurav Kripalani) hid the fact that he was born a Muslim to Pakistani parents. He changed his name to "Kapoor" so he could pass off as a Hindu. Only when he has to, he admits to being an apostate.

For years, the disguise worked like a charm. It allowed him to grab a slice of the American Dream, complete with a posh Manhattan apartment and beautiful white wife Emily (played by Jennifer Coombs).

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Ironically, that trophy wife turns out to be his Achilles' heel. Emily is a conscientious artist who is experimenting with Islamic aesthetics and philosophy. When a Muslim cleric is jailed for his views, Emily persuades Amir to attend the court hearing where he unwittingly gives a quote to The New York Times.

But here on it's downhill. His Jewish bosses at the law firm misinterprets Amir's involvement in the case. And everything comes to a head when his African-American colleague (LaNisa Frederick) and her Jewish curator-husband (Daniel Jenkins) come for dinner.

Directed by Nate Silver, who has worked on half a dozen productions of the same play, Disgraced is startling in its candour and urgency. Few plays have managed to articulate the complexity and contradictions of racial and religious identity in our contemporary world, even though it is well-covered in the field of social sciences.

Playwright Ayad does an excellent job of dramatising the issues, although a few plot twists - particularly the final one involving Emily and the curator - are too calculated. Still, it is rare for the audience to be treated to such a profound but accessible play on race relations, and Disgraced brims with relevant issues for the Singapore audience.

Familiar stage actors Jenkins and Ghafir Akbar (who plays Amir's nephew) are reliably good in their roles, while American actresses Coombs and Frederick hold their own.

But the real surprise here is Kripalani. For 15 years, he's held the job of SRT's artistic/managing director while keeping his love for acting on the back burner. He is entirely convincing as the proud and ambitious Amir who just wants the good life like any other person - but can't swim against the tide of political circumstance.

  • Disgraced runs at the KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT from now till Dec 4, 2016. Tickets from Sistic