Disgraced or Graced?

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I walked into the McGuire Proscenium Stage at The Guthrie Theater with my friend Barbara La Valleur and her husband, in anticipation even though I knew exactly what to expect because I’d read the play.

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People were sitting down, chatting and flipping through the pages of the program before the play started. From my seat, I could spot the ones who had it open on my article. I watched silently as they read, then flipped the page. I was glad that people were being introduced to the story of the play from a different angle, by a different medium, in the very same auditorium.

A couple of months after being featured in an article in the Star Tribune, I received an email from a Guthrie staff member inviting me for an informal chat with team members working on Disgraced, a play written by Ayad Akhtar, that received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play, and was named the most produced play in America for the 2015-16 season.

As I was reading the script, I started understanding the reasons behind such a request. I felt that the conversation played on some anti-Muslim sentiments and left a lot of misconceptions about Islam unchecked.

The play is a compelling and provocative conversation between an ex-Muslim and his American wife, who are hosting a dinner with a Jewish friend and his wife, a person of color, who is a work colleague of the husband. They discuss work, religion and politics over drinks and dinner. As the conversation takes a more aggressive tone, the characters expose deep-seated feelings of hatred and resentment from every angle, but mostly stemming from the main character, Amir, who apparently still carries anger and hate towards Americans that he believes stem from his previous faith’s teachings. There were many layers addressed in the play and it certainly gives rise to continued conversations.

Back in the meeting with Guthrie staff I was asked, “What do you ultimately hope to do?” by Marcela Lorca, the play’s director. My response was, “If I had the chance to address every single person in the audience after the play, I would.”  She expressed the need to do “justice” to the subject given the political rhetoric in the U.S.

A week later I received another email inviting me to write my own story in the Disgraced program handed out at each performance. I titled my response “Graced” and am proud that it gives the audience a different perspective to consider.

In further conversations, a powerful collaboration with the Islamic Resource Group (IRG) took place, resulting in an IRG speaker, along with a moderator on almost every post play discussion during the six-week-run of the show.

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It is a bold move by The Guthrie to spark such a conversation. And it is an unprecedented way to have a dialogue on such platform. It is genuine and beyond the Minnesota-nice. That is American!

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