(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Ayad Akhtar is having a banner year -- his first novel, American Dervish, was well-received last winter and this play, his first, has arrived at LCT3's Claire Tow Theater after making big waves in Chicago. It is easy to see why. In 90 tightly-plotted minutes, the playwright raises serious issues about life in contemporary America that, because they are painful, are usually ignored. The protagonist is Amir (Aasif Mandvi), a self-hating first-generation Pakistani-American, who has broken his ties with Islam. His blonde all-American wife Emily (Heidi Armbruster) is a painter who has found her inspiration in Islamic art. Isaac (Erik Jensen) is a Jewish gallery owner who is considering including Emily's work in an upcoming show. His African-American wife Jory (Karen Pittman) and Amir are both associates in the same New York law firm. Amir has a young nephew Abe (Omar Maskati) who has changed his name from Hussein; although largely assimilated, he is still a devout Muslim. When Emily and Abe bully Amir into attending a court hearing for an imam who has been accused of raising money for terrorists, things do not turn out well. At a dinner party for the two couples, prickly conversation escalates into verbal warfare and the evening ends disastrously. A final scene set several months later gives further insight into living as a Muslim-American, but does not provide a strong ending. The cast is quite good except for Mandvi, whose portrayal of Amir would profit from greater nuance and less stridency. Kimberly Senior's direction keeps things from lagging. Lauren Helpern's lovely set of a spacious Upper East Side apartment with modernist furnishings and a terrace will inspire real estate envy in most Manhattanites. Dane Laffrey's costumes are fine too. The powerful dinner party scene will probably stick in my memory longer than I would like. Tickets are only $20.