As far as I’m aware, none of the major religions have ever made reference to Beelzebub throwing a soiree for a few pals. But I doubt the Devil’s idea of a good night-in bears much relation to what we tend to call ‘the dinner party from hell’, a dramatic cliché that generally involves nothing more hellish than acute social embarrassment.
However, Satan could probably get on board with the pivotal scene of Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Disgraced’,. In it, Hari Dhillon’s lapsed Muslim-American lawyer Amir – under terrible strain at work – has one drink too many over dinner in his New York apartment and says something unsayable about 9/11 to his artist wife’s Jewish agent. After an uneventful but increasingly tense first hour, Amir’s indiscretion opens a cataclysmic social and emotional Pandora’s Box that unleashes a living version of the hell he doesn’t believe in.
This could be the set up for an outrageous ‘Clybourne Park’-style comedy, but despite a few good jokes Nadia Fall’s production is defined by its unflinching and intelligent earnestness. ‘Disgraced’ seeks neither to make light of nor offer a solution to the underlying tensions between ‘Islamic’ and ‘Western’ identities. But it perhaps provides a note of explanation: as the excellent Dhillon’s urbane façade falls apart, and the marriage and career he has given his all to are taken away from him, we realise that, for a moment at least, he has nothing left to define his identity but the long-rejected culture of his childhood.
Powerful and uncomfortable, ‘Disgraced’ is also deft, witty and horribly plausible. It offers no solutions, but in light of the unhelpful media hysteria over recent events in Woolwich, it offers a degree of painful but vital illumination on the great cultural conflict of our time.
By Andrzej Lukowski