BACKSTAGE AT THE REP: Disgraced


Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, November 9

WHO'S WHO?

A guide to the people mentioned in Disgraced.

Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi was a philosopher, poet, and spiritual teacher born in Murica, Spain, in 1165. Well known for his writing and impact on the Islamic world, he focused on divine reality and the human experience of it. Though he has written over 800 works, his best known works are, “The Meccan Illuminations” and “The Ringstones of Wisdom.” They focus on mystical philosophy, practices, mystical beliefs, and his teachings.
 
Mulla Sadra was a philosopher and scholar born in Shiraz, Iran in 1571 or 1572. Many of his ideas focused on existentialism, existence as reality, causation, and truth. He’s best known for leading the Iranian cultural renaissance in the 17th century. His best known work is a ‘philosophical encyclopedia’ known as, “The Transcendent Theosophy in the Four Journeys of the Intellect,” otherwise known as the “Four Journeys.”
 
Rumi was a poet, Islamic scholar, and theologian born in Vakhsh, Tajikistan in 1207. A current best-seller poet in the United States, Rumi was well known for his writings (poetry and prose). His best known works are “Spiritual Couplets” and “The Works of Shams of Tabriz.” Rumi’s works cover a wide variety of topics such as love, the source of creation, God, and death.
 
Martin Amis is a novelist and professor born in Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom in 1949. Amis is best known for the “London Trilogy” which consists of three novels “Money,” “London Fields,” and “The Information.” He has also written on the subjects of nuclear proliferation, Islam and radical Islamism, terrorism, and other various socio-political topics.
 
Christopher Hitchens was an author, religious/literary critic, and journalist born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, United Kingdom in 1949. An author, co-author, editor or co-editor of over 30 books he is best known for his book “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and his work at The Atlantic and Vanity Fair magazine. He interests included (criticizing) the Iraq War, religion, and certain public figures such as George W. Bush, Pope Benedict XVI, Bill Clinton, and other socio political topics.
 
Henry Kissinger is an American diplomat, author, political scientist, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and acted as the United State’s Secretary of State for two different presidents. Born in 1923 in Fürth, Bavaria, Germany he’s known for his role in the Vietnam War and his books on politics and international relations such as “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy,” “American Foreign Policy: Three Essays,” and “Diplomacy”.
 
Mahmoud Ahmadinajad is an Iranian politician and the main political leader of the Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran. Born in 1956 in Aradan, Iran Ahmadinajad was the 6th president of Iran between 2005 and 2013. Ahmadinajad went under fire during both terms over alleged corruption, economic policies, and alleged disregard for human rights. He became the first president of Iran to be summoned by the Islamic parliament to answer questions regarding his actions as president.
 
Jerry Saltz is an art critic, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and author born in Illinois, United States in 1951. He is known for his books, “Seeing Out Loud: The Village Voice Art Columns” and “Seeing Out Louder” both of which include collection of columns he’s written over his career. Saltz has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism two times for his art critiques in 2001 and 2006.
 
Michele Bachmann is an American republican politician and former member of the United States House of Representatives. Born in Waterloo, Iowa, United States in 1956 she is a member of the Tea Party and founder of the House Tea Party Caucus. The first republican woman to represent the state in Congress, during her time as congresswoman Bachmann has voted against the ‘College Cost Reduction and Access Act,’ ‘Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013,’ and introduced the ‘No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.'
 
Anderson Cooper is an American journalist, author, Pulitzer Prize winner, and news anchor born in New York City, New York, United States in 1967. He has worked for ABC, Channel One, and CBS’ “60 Minutes,” but he is best known for his position as the main news anchor on CNN. He has conducted interviews and covered a wide array of stories on topics such as Chicago police brutality, the crisis and aftermath in Haiti, famine in Somalia, and violence against Muslims.
 
Benjamin Netanyahu is the current Prime Minister of Israel and a member of the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit (Israeli military) born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1949. He is known for his role within Palestinian-Israeli negotiations- relations, work on preventing terrorism, and successful economic reforms. When he finishes his term in 2019, Netanyahu will be the longest
serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history.

 

Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, November 2

MUSLIM WOMEN and HEADSCARVES

For Muslim women in America, a headscarf — or hijab — is a visible sign of their faith and identity, and whether to wear one is a big decision.
 
"Before I wore hijab, making friends with people who weren't Muslim was a lot easier," says Maryam Adamu. Before she began wearing a headscarf three years ago, people didn't know she was Muslim — until she told them. "I, like, Trojan-horsed my Islam," she says, laughing. "Like, 'You're already my friend. I know you like me. Now you know I'm Muslim, and you're going to learn about this faith.'" Once she started wearing a headscarf, she encountered a social obstacle she hadn't seen before. "Now, I have to work a lot harder to get into people's lives who aren't Muslim," she says.
 
For some women, that can be a burden. Asma Uddin, born in Miami to Pakistani parents, is devout in her religious beliefs, but she stopped wearing a headscarf when it started interfering with her work as a lawyer. "I was tired of being a political spokesperson for my faith," she says. "I felt that I should be able to put that away, and wearing a headscarf in public doesn't give you that luxury. I was tired of trying to prove that Muslim women in headscarves are also empowered, 'Look at me. I'm working in a white-shoe law firm with a headscarf.'
 
Asra Nomani, who describes herself as a Muslim reformer, co-wrote a provocative op-ed in the Washington Post asking non-Muslim women not to wear headscarves, even in solidarity, because in her judgment it stands for "an interpretation of Islam we reject." "The headscarf has become a political symbol for an ideology of Islam that is exported to the world by the theocracies of the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia.” The commentary provoked an outcry among "hijabi" Muslim women in the United States, many of whom bristled at the suggestion that wearing a headscarf signals their submission to a conservative Islamic ideology.
 
"I support women who choose to wear it [and] who choose not to," says Yasmin Elhady, a civil rights attorney who was born in Egypt and raised in Alabama. "I don't believe that anyone should comment on why women should or shouldn't wear it. I think that if women want to ... we should be supportive."
 
Dalia Mogahed, born in Wisconsin to parents from Egypt, didn't even like the question “Do Non-Muslims Help or Hurt Women by Wearing Hijabs?” As research director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, she focuses on the American Muslim community. "Some Muslim women wear hijab, some don't, and it's just not an issue," she says. "It's a non-issue. But then you have one person write an engaging article, and suddenly it's a debate that we're supposed to be having, [a debate] that we are not having."
 
Source: “American Muslim Women Explain Why They Do-Or Don’t Cover” by Tom Gjelten of NPR.org
 
Excerpt from the New York Times article, “Muslim Women on the Veil” by Hanna Ingber, May 27, 2015:
 
To some, a Muslim head scarf represents patriarchal oppression in a backward society. To others, it symbolizes modesty, identity and respect for a higher being.
 
Sadiya Patel: “I chose to start wearing the veil three years ago, even though the girls in my family don’t. I chose to wear it myself after I studied Islam and thought it was a beautiful way to express my love for my religion and nothing more… I believe it’s wrong to force anyone to wear it as well as to force anyone to remove it. You’re taking away an individual’s right to her religious freedom... It’s a piece of cloth for God’s sake. What harm does it cause anyone? Only narrow-minded and uninformed views cause harm to a society.”
 
Safiya: The one thing I don’t understand is why people assume hijab/niqab is a symbol of oppression. Never once in my life have I been told to wear the hijab. For me it has always been part of my life growing up… When I wear my hijab it makes me feel confident, I feel like myself, this is how I have always been. But this isn’t how the majority of the world looks upon the hijab. We live in a strange society where walking around half naked is acceptable but being modest and covering up is frowned upon… the fact that forcing a woman to not wear what she likes is OK, when clearly it is oppression itself. “
 
Shanonda: I am a Muslim woman who has chosen to stop wearing my hijab after having worn it for 10 years (beginning at age 15). I chose to stop wearing my hijab as I did not feel that a piece of fabric made me any more or less pious. During those formative teenage years, I immersed myself in my religion. I wore my hijab by choice, as my parents always gave me the option. Having that choice made me feel empowered. Key word: CHOICE. Taking this choice out of women’s hands is, essentially, taking away their power to control how they present themselves to the world.
 
BB: “…The head covering is a sociocultural influence that has existed for centuries and was acquired by the religion. The head scarf is more an expression of culture and nationality, but has erroneously become a religious symbol.”
 
Kadidja: “…I do not wear the veil. I have seen the women in my family wearing the veil or not wearing it. For me, it’s a personal decision, and I think those who decide to wear the veil should have their decision respected. Telling Muslim women to take off their veil excludes them and prevents assimilation. And we all know what happens when people are excluded. Extremists tend to take advantage of that exclusion. Plus, telling a woman not to wear the veil in my opinion is policing what women wear. Why not tell us not to wear shorts, skirts, dresses?”

 

Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, October 26

TRUE STORIES OF THE PERSECUTION OF MUSLIMS IN AMERICA

Dr. Sami Al-Arian, the son of Palestinian refugees, University of South Florida professor, born in Kuwait, came to the U.S. in 1975. He was arrested in 2003 and charged with financing and promoting terrorism by Attorney General John Ashcroft. The arrest followed over ten years of government surveillance. Despite processing hundreds of pages of transcribed intercepted phone calls, secretly monitored videos, and dozens of government witnesses, the Department of Justice failed to produce convincing evidence to support Dr. Al-Arian’s indictment. Dr. Al-Arian was found not guilty in 2005 after two years of pre-trial detention, during which his conditions were described as “gratuitously punitive” by Amnesty International.
 
Dr. Al-Arian was expected to leave jail in 2007. Instead of being released, he was sentenced an additional 18 months in prison over new charges of refusing to testify in another trial. Dr. Al-Arian undertook a hunger strike to protest his ongoing persecution. His physical deterioration was so profound that the U.S. Marshals Service publically vowed to force-feed if his conditions continued to worsen.
 
In 2014, a decade after the initial arrest, all charges against Dr. Al-Arian were quietly dropped. Dr. Al-Arian left America in 2015, on a long-planned deportation to Turkey, ending his 40 years of stay in the United States, during which he spent over ten years imprisoned. “I came to the United States for freedom, but four decades later, I am leaving to gain my freedom,” Dr. Al-Arian told a journalist at the airport as he prepared to leave the U.S.
 
Dr. Al-Arian’s story remains one of the most high profile cases in the media, against the backdrop of America’s post-9/11 “War on Terror.” The Department of Justice cited the USA PATRIOT ACT as instrumental in leading to Dr. Al-Arian’s arrest. The law notably lowered the bar for the FBI to conduct investigation on certain citizens via intelligence gathering on the ground of suspected terrorism.
 
Chaumtoli Huq, the then 42-year-old human rights lawyer, sued the NYPD after being arrested for “blocking the sidewalk” in 2014. On the afternoon of July 19, 2014, Huq had been attending a rally with her family in support of Gaza. She was waiting outside a restaurant for her husband and two children to use the restroom when at least two NYPD officers asked her to move. She told them she was waiting for her family, and one officer responded by pushing her against the wall and handcuffing her. During the arrest, one officer found out Huq had a different last name than her husband. He allegedly told her “In America, wives take the names of their husbands.”
 
Huq brought a suit against the NYPD, which said that the incident was “characteristic of a pattern and practice of the NYPD in aggressive over policing of people of color and persons lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.” She sought monetary damages and demanded training for NYPD on Muslim and Asian communities. When the city refused to offer anything beyond monetary compensation, Huq accepted, but expressed her frustration: “The settlement without any changes is like they paid me for injury due to an open manhole, but didn’t fix that manhole.”
 
“COST OF WAR”
The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University found that since 9/11, several U.S. laws and policies have contributed to an increase in racial profiling of Muslims and people of Arab and South Asian descent.

Racial profiling often leads to over-aggressive treatment of Muslims or persons perceived to be Muslim at airports, schools, or in public spaces such as the street. In 2016 alone, between January and April, there have been six cases of Muslims being pulled off flights, including a 26 year-old Berkley student, after speaking Arabic on the phone before takeoff. Officials are known for detaining and asking Muslim travelers invasive questions such as “Which mosques do you attend?” and “When did you become a Muslim?” Incidents like these not only subject Muslims worldwide to increased scrutiny and harassment, but potentially violate the Constitutional rights of American Muslim citizens.


Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, October 19

INTERVIEW WITH AYAD AKHTAR

JEFFREY BROWN, PBSNews: As the drama [in Disgraced] unfolds, Amir moves from a sharp critique of Islam to admitting feelings of sympathy into a worldview he has rejected. How much of this reflects any of your own sense of Americanness, Islam, being a Muslim, and your sense of identity? 

AYAD AKHTAR: Right. It’s a good question. I think it’s one I’m still grappling with and still working through in a series of works that Disgraced is one of. And I think there’s a long history of sort of post-colonial Muslim self-definition the last, I would say, 200 years, where defining oneself in opposition to the West or separate from the West has been an important part of what it means to call oneself Muslim. I think that, obviously, in the past decade or so, there has been such tremendous geopolitical upheavals that there’s a way in which that’s being called into question. So… 

JEFFREY: At a personal level? 

AYAD AKHTAR: At a personal level, at a nation-state level. 

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. 

AYAD AKHTAR: It’s being called into question. All of the sort of extraordinary conflicts that we see unfolding in the Middle East are part and parcel of what I’m talking about. And so the work that I’m doing, Disgraced included, is about exploring the various contradictions that arise because of that history and those fealties. 

JEFFREY BROWN: Of being a Muslim in America after 9/11? 

AYAD AKHTAR: Well, in part being Muslim. Being American. What are the overlaps? What are the contradictions? Are those contradictions real? Are they historical? Are they passed simply from parent to child, or is it something much larger? Is there an inherent conflict between Islam and the West? 

JEFFREY BROWN: And have you figured this out, or is this what you’re doing in the work? 

AYAD AKHTAR: I think to have an answer would be above my pay grade. 

(LAUGHTER) 

AYAD AKHTAR: I get away with — I get away with trying to see what the various perspectives yield in terms of human lives and the solutions that individuals come up with to these questions. 

JEFFREY BROWN: I wonder just how you see theater, as a kind of provocation, you know, as something that makes us think a lot. 

AYAD AKHTAR: Right. 

JEFFREY BROWN: This is a kind of provocative piece of writing. 

AYAD AKHTAR: It is. And I think that, at its best, what the theater does is, it gathers us together. We, social herding animals, arrive together into a room, and we behold something that actually happens before us, not something mediated to us by a screen, but the presence of live performers, which hearkens back to a kind of experience of a ritual, and an experience of one mind, one body, a kind of communion that happens in the audience between audience and performers that allows us, reaches into us, where we can experience things more deeply than we can individually. 

JEFFREY BROWN: Even if it’s provoking questions of real identity, am I a Muslim? Am I a Jew? Am I an American? Who am I? 

AYAD AKHTAR: Well, those sound like some pretty good questions for our time. So I don’t mind doing that. 

Read the full interview and see video here: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/disgraced-interrogates-definitions-identity-islam-america/


 

Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, October 12

WE ARE EXCITED ABOUT...

Finally producing Disgraced! We have been chomping at the bit to see this play realized on the Lyceum Stage for several years. We had to wait for it to go to Broadway and then wait for the touring show to end. But it was worth it. (Of course during that time we had many internal debates about this play and its many layers and themes, intermixed with strong emotions on all sides—because that is what this play does best.) No doubt that is why it has the distinction of winning the Pulitzer Prize, being nominated for a Tony, and becoming the most produced play in America for 2015-16.
 
The story is set in New York. Corporate lawyer Amir Kapoor is happy, in love, and about to land the biggest career promotion of his life. But beneath the veneer, success has come at a price. When Amir and his artist wife, Emily, host an intimate dinner party at their beautiful apartment with Amir’s co-worker and her art curator husband, what starts out as a friendly conversation soon escalates into something far more damaging. And by the end, we see a set of characters in their rawest form, flaws and all.
 
As Akhtar revealed, “There’s a whole lineage of works that influenced Disgraced—William Faulkner’s Light in August, Shakespeare’s Othello, V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River—all colored male subjects who perform an act of violence on a white paramour; on a white, desired, erotic object, that has deep racial and political ramifications. There is something in that thematic field that is about shame or disgrace or disgust or self-loathing….I wanted to write a play that would have a tragic arc, that would move an audience to pity and terror—to use the classical formulation—and to do it in a way that did not preclude the audience gasping at entrances, or actions, moved both to tears and raucous laughter. A full engagement of the emotional and intellectual self of the viewer….If a story goes there, we experience something Aristotle calls catharsis. Catharsis is only possible when the full dimension of our pity and our terror are aroused by what we see. If the volume dials down to two or three you can’t really have catharsis. Catharsis isn’t about feeling sorry for a character or shedding a few tears. It is a very specific process having to do with identification, anticipation, pity, and terror. I just think the bigger the story, the more compelling that process can be.”
 
We are eager to bring you our version of Disgraced, directed by Michael Arabian, who you might remember did a brilliant job of creating the world of Rothko in our production of John Logan’s RED several seasons ago. Lighting designer Brian Gayle returns as well, joined by Emmy Award-winning scenic designer John Iacovelli to transport us into the Upper East Side world of Amir.

We are thrilled that Ronobir Lahiri will take on the role of Amir. You may recognize him from roles on countless television shows or maybe even from his world-renowned sitar concerts. (Watch out for a concert performance by Lahiri as one of the engagement events.) Plus, we are happy to welcome back long-time REP actress, Monique Gaffney, last scene on the Lyceum Stage in Clybourne Park. We also want to celebrate that four cast members are making their REP debut. That includes Ronobir, as well as Allison Spratt Pearce, who comes to us with many Broadway and Off-Broadway credits, Richard Baird, who is reprising role of Isaac after a successful run at Arizona Theater Company, and Keala Milles, Jr., who served as an understudy in last season’s Oedipus El Rey.
 
This play addresses many REP related themes including race, religion, and religious intolerance, capitalistic greed, upward mobility, assimilation, alienation, and the influence of cultural heritage. Still, Akhtar clearly stated in an interview with NPR, “the play is about how we talk about Islam, how we frame Islam, what meaning we find in it and how those conversations are actually not just theoretical conversations. They have some pretty profound emotional content for people these days.” It is a topic that needs our attention.
 
While we admit to having grappled with concerns about the negative, even violent, portrayal of a Muslim man in this play, we felt the discussions the play sparked were very necessary given our current political/social climate. Plus, we trusted the playwright because he is so clearly aware of the complexities he is presenting us with. “No one voice can speak for American Muslims in the theater. But at the moment, there is no other….For a lot of people, to see or hear the word ‘Muslim’ is not too dissimilar to hearing the word ‘Cancer’… But what am I gonna to do about it? Keep telling really great stories and hopefully enough people catch on, and they’re like, ‘You know what? It’s not about that. It’s about something else, like being human.’” Ultimately, we applaud Akhtar’s bravery and vulnerability in exposing himself and his inner struggles in this work of art.
 

Ayad Akhtar is a Pakistani American writer, playwright, and screenwriter. His book, American Dervish, was published in over twenty languages worldwide and was a 2012 Best Book of the Year. His latest play, The Who & The What, premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in 2014. He has received commissions from Lincoln Center Theater and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Akhtar is a graduate of Brown and Columbia Universities with degrees in Theater and Film Directing.

 

 

 
 
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