Keeping up appearances may sound like an easy task, but at the pinnacles of 21st-century privilege, it takes determination and more than a little luck. In Disgraced, the Ayad Akhtar play presented last week at Center Stage Theater, the high-earning, impeccably attired New York attorney Amir (Fajer Al-Kaisi) encounters a rough patch. As a result, his unresolved identity issues abruptly go critical, and some unattractive personal qualities set off a chain reaction that leaves his tidy and glamorous Upper East Side life in shambles.
One way to understand what happens to Amir involves recognizing that he’s playing simultaneously to two very different audiences. At home, and to Emily (Ivy Vahanian), his beautiful and talented artist spouse, Amir’s Muslim background makes him an attractive other; the faith he has renounced becomes the subject of her art. At work, where he hopes to become a partner in a high-powered law firm, the same facts are such a liability that he resorts to subterfuge, hiding behind an assumed name and banking on the belief that if he plays the right part and wears the right stuff, he will pass as Hindu and no one will ask any embarrassing questions. The performances by the five professional actors in this exceptional production were consistently crisp and compelling, and together they delivered one of the more memorable evenings of theater in this young Santa Barbara season.