The Play’s the Thing: Pulitzer-Prize Winner Disgraced

I keep saying people should read more plays–well here’s a specific suggestion for you: Ayad Akhtar’s play Disgraced, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama. The play is a powerful examination of politics and religion in post-9/11 New York City.  You have a non-practicing Muslim who practices law, his white artist wife, a Jewish gallery owner, his African-American lawyer wife–in other words, a room full of people with a history of oppression and stereotypes forced upon them by society at large.  The tension in the room becomes palpable as emotions rise. Needless to say, the play captures much of the tension between and among various groups of people who have to negotiate stereotypes regularly. This summary of course, is reductive, and cannot possible capture the complexity that this play presents, so you’ll just have to go read the play yourself.

What is also phenomenal about Disgraced, though, is the essay Akhtar includes about reading plays as the introduction.  He begins by saying “Plays on the page are neither fish nor fowl. A play is seldom meant to be read. It is meant to be pored over, interrogated, dissected, obeyed.” You should find this play for this essay “On Reading Plays” alone–I immediately read this essay to my seniors as we were studying modern plays.

Additionally, the publishers included an interview with the author at the end, and that’s another great reason to find this book.  He talks about the function of plays, that they can be a “portal”.  He says “Look, at the end of the day, art’s capacity to change the world is profoundly limited.  But what it can do is change the way we see things individually.  I aspired to accomplish with this structure a kind of shattering of the audience, after which they have to find some way to put themselves back together.”  I really like how he phrased this, and how later on the same page he says again to his interviewer: “the events of the play have provided access to the present–to things as they are. That’s the only way we can change anything, the only way we can change ourselves.  The only way we can change the world is by recognizing what it is, now.” I think this framework for approaching plays is perfect–they provide a portal to how the present was at the time they were written.

And now, of course, I’m determined to find a venue performing this piece. If you know anywhere this is being performed, let me know in the comments!


Posted by Kate, VP Secondary of PCTELA

The Play’s the Thing: Pulitzer-Prize Winner Disgraced

The Play’s the Thing

I’ve recently decided to read more plays for pleasure reading. And why not? After the successful adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and the recent performance of the Hamilton musical number at the Grammys, it seems plays (and musicals) may be back en vogue. The benefits of reading plays in my downtime are plentiful.

I can read most plays in one short sitting, usually an hour or less.  It feels like a more intense, more raw experience.  Driven by dialogue, plays contain characters who must define themselves with what they say (or don’t say).  There can be no reliance on long narrative explanations––they must speak for themselves.  I am increasingly awestruck at playwrights who can create depth of character in such short space.

Plays, like novels, capture the zeitgeist of a time, but the method of doing so illuminates the mannerisms of the people portrayed in quick brushstrokes. Annie Baker’s The Flick, a 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning play started me off on this kick (thanks to my department head for the copy of the play). Recently I’ve devoured Eve Ensler’s Necessary Targets, 2003 Pulitzer winner Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics, and Margaret Edson’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner, Wit.

If you’re looking to challenge your reading and expose yourself to a quick, satisfying story, consider reading modern plays.  So step aside from the Shakespeare for a while, and read the bards of our time.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

See this link (image below) for more plays:

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The Play’s the Thing