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The Play-Goer: Compass Rose Theater’s Disgraced

How much of ourselves must we give up to coexist?

photo by Stan Barouh/ Left, Katie Wicklund as Emily, Par Juneja as Amir, Right, Auyne' Boone as Jory in Compass Rose Theater's Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar.

         It’s unusual for a play to have more relevance today than when it was written, but Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama, resonates powerfully in the context of current events that have awakened a deep-seated fear of dark-skinned, mustachioed people in many Americans. Akhtar’s brief but explosive work is on display at Compass Rose Theater’s temporary quarters in the Power House Building at the Loews Hotel, and the intimate room can barely contain the political and personal fireworks brought to life by director James Bunzli and a talented cast of five.

         We sit in on a dinner for four: Amir, a Muslim who has foresworn his religion to fit in as a successful mergers and acquisitions lawyer in Manhattan; his WASP artist wife Emily, fond of Islamic paintings; her Jewish agent Isaac; and his African-American wife Jory. Among them, what begins as a cozy conversation turns into a lit fuse.

         Amir’s nephew Abe, who changed his name from Hussein, is also assimilated, but he wants his uncle to defend an imam suspected of raising money for terrorists. The results are disastrous for Amir’s career. His admission that he felt a bit of pride after 9-11, even though he abhors the Koran, gives us a peek at his roots.

         Par Juneja gives us an Amir who seems totally assimilated in the upper crust legal world of Manhattan. Juneja also shows us the simmering hatred Amir carries for his roots as well as what he has to do to hide them. Juneja’s delivery can sometimes be forced, but the realness of his character has us believing him and understanding why Amir had to change to be successful.

         Katie Wicklund’s Emily likewise is convincing, and her affinity for all things Islamic, which counters her husband’s disdain for it, provides a hint of the fireworks to come. She may seem a devoted wife, but there’s darkness underneath.

         Sam Midwood is commanding as Isaac, whose Judaism he seems to carry as a weapon of justification for self-righteous argument. His ego is punctured by his wife Jory, played with smoldering dignity by Aunye' Boone. When Isaac speaks with derision of the Henry Kissinger quote she has near her desk, If faced with choosing justice or order, I’ll always choose order, she responds, “You pull yourself out of the ghetto, you realize order is where it’s at.”

         As Abe, Joe Mucciolo’s role is smaller but critical and ably played. He reminds us that there is a rough, gritty outside world from which these four elitists are walled off, even as they argue about that world’s morals and prejudices.

         Director Bunzli’s awkward staging of a violent eruption by Amir late in the play unfortunately softens the shock Akhtar wants us to feel. But the overall pace was lively, even with a few line hiccups. 

         Kudos to founding artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne for tackling this kind of uncomfortable but important subject matter. In the local Annapolis area, it’s a fact of life that only a professional theater can attract a cast with both the specific ethnicities and capabilities to pull off such a challenge. Balancing such shows with the more typical fare is fast becoming Compass Rose’s niche. 

         Compass Rose’s production of Akhtar’s award-winning play may be staged in a small space, but its impact is big and visceral. You won’t leave smiling. You will leave thinking. 


One hour and 15 minutes with no intermission. Playing thru March 25: FSa 8pm, Su 2pm, Th 7pm, $38 w/discounts, rsvp:


Costume design Katie Boothroyd. Stage manager and lighting designer: Caitlin Weller. Property manager: Mary Ruth Cowgill.