Posts Tagged ‘Ayad Akhtar’

‘Disgraced’ by Ayad Akhtar – A Devastating Play


‘Disgraced’, a play by Ayad Akhtar  (2012) – 96 pages


‘Disgraced’ has probably had the most stage productions of any play in the last ten years. It is about time that I got to it. In the absence of any live performances these days, I read the play which also works for me. Most of my experiences with Shakespeare have been through reading.

The words and the actions of ‘Disgraced’ are as clear as a bell. There is no mistaking their import. There is no attempt to soften the play’s devastating impact on the audience.

Here are words of the author, Ayad Akhtar, regarding ‘Disgraced’:

I aspired to accomplish with this structure a kind of shattering of the audience, after which they have to find some way to put themselves back together.”

The play is one act, four scenes. All scenes take place in the fashionable New York apartment of married couple Amir and Emily. Amir is an American-born corporate attorney who has renounced his Muslim background and is awaiting his promotion to partner in his law firm. His wife Emily is a white Christian and an artist who is fascinated with Islamic art and tradition. I won’t go into the details of the play since I don’t want to blunt its force on those who have not seen it yet, but let’s just say the play is about the severe trials and tribulations of this well-to-do couple in the United States of today.

The play’s sharp brutal directness is probably responsible for the overwhelming success of ‘Disgraced’. Ayad Akhtar speaks of his play as “something that is so troubling, so multivalent, that the people in the audience cannot easily answer or release the questions that the piece has raised for them.”

Ayad Akhtar, again:

I want the audience to be so fully identified with a protagonist who acts out in an understandable but tragically horrifying way, that no matter what text you put on top of it, it doesn’t change his humanity.”

Despite some spirited criticism from some Muslim viewers of the play, I would still recommend you see or read the play in order to draw your own conclusions.


Grade:   A



Homeland Elegies A Novel’ by Ayad Akhtar – At Home in the United States


‘Homeland Elegies A Novel’ by Ayad Akhtar (2020) – 343 pages

I found myself in the presence of one remarkable American after another, each Muslim, each involved in some work that made my self-absorbed preoccupation with drama and contradiction start to seem not only trivial but also shameless.”

By calling his book ‘Homeland Elegies A Novel’, Ayad Akhtar wants us to be sure and recognize this book as fiction. However the writing has the verisimilitude of a memoir. The main character is called Ayad Akhtar, and he recalls specific instances from his and his family’s and his friends’ lives. I expect one of the reasons the words “a novel” are added to the title is to prevent lawsuits, etc. If his father and mother were still alive, they might have even sued him. He might even consider suing himself; Ayad Akhtar is very open here, perhaps too candid. I expect some details and names probably are made up. This work is an interesting hybrid of non-fiction and fiction that is a smooth effortless read that just rolls along.

And yet though I’ve clearly shown neither shame or compunction about exposing my loved ones – and myself – to the ridicule likely headed our way upon publication of this book, I’ve decided (mostly) to leave my half-sister, Melissa (not her real name), out of it.”

Ayad Akhtar won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with his play ‘Disgraced’ in 2013. In 2016, American Theatre magazine declared Akhtar the most produced playwright in the country. He also published an earlier novel ‘American Dervish’ to critical acclaim Besides that, Akhtar was raised in my home state of Wisconsin.

Mark Twain doubted there was a writer yet born who could tell the truth about himself.”

In this novel, Ayad Akhtar and his father confronted two different United States. His father immigrated to the United States in the 1960s as a research doctor, and the United States welcomed him with a high position at a hospital and a comfortable salary. He was Wisconsin’s leading specialist in all manner of arcane heart rhythm problems. His father had a “fundamental optimism” of our country and its leaders.

At least fifty percent of the best doctors in America were not born in America.”

His mother has a more skeptical view of Americans:

They run around telling everyone else about human rights. But not for them. Look how they treat their own blacks.”

Ayad Akhtar was born here in 1970. He struggled for a long time with little income as a writer. He was still trying to establish a career on 9/11/2001. After that, many in the United States looked upon Muslims with suspicion, distrust, and frequently hatred. When Donald Trump became President, he deliberately incited even more hatred against Muslims.

In one episode, Ayad and his father experience car trouble on an Interstate. Of course finding a service station that fixes the car is a different, more fraught, issue for a Muslim in the United States than it is for a white Christian.

The most meaningful part of ‘Homeland Elegies’ for me is his take on what happened to the United States that it could descend to having Donald Trump as its President. The country has become “ensnared in a materialism from which it couldn’t escape”. Its people “knew not to trust a world that was now nothing more than a marketplace”. There is “less and less place in America, for the middle class of things”.

Certainly the rich people of the United States are far richer than they have ever been before. However the quality of life for everyone else has declined. Whereas formerly the United States was filled with vibrant towns and cities, now middle class people must settle for chain Walmarts and fast food joints. It used to be that you could go to your local shoe store or hardware store where its owners probably knew you and your family, and they would make sure you would get the right shoe or tool you needed. It was a much different experience from dumping something in your cart at the local huge discount store. Now we are dealing with “the treachery of an American society that abandoned the weak and monetized the unlucky”.


Grade:   A




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