All you theater pieces providing a pleasant escape from the angry buzzing clutter of real life and a temporary break from discouraged, rage-engaged, politically charged Facebook feeds, take a step forward. Ah-ah-ah, NOT so fast Disgraced at San Jose Stage. Nice try. I know you were written in 2006, but don’t think that little fact will allow you to hide amongst the “art for entertainment’s sake.” Laugh riot, fantasy-fueled, no-brainer you most certainly are not. Don’t you dare try to blend into the landscape. I see you there with your highly topical, thought-provoking, self-examining, shock and awe intensity. Your triggers and powerful parallels did not escape me. You cannot hide. Nor should you.
Indeed, with a script so timely (or STILL so timely) I had to wonder if my experience would have been different had I seen it 3 months ago, or even a week prior. This show raises and examines a lot of questions and is crafted in such an honest, tight way, that we don’t have time (or inclination) to struggle to make excuses or justify anyone’s actions. You have time to watch and feel in the moment as it unfolds, but not take sides – a difficult, but supremely effective structural device. It’s so evenly presented it feels in many ways like being on a jury, instructed to take in all the evidence at face value. Moments of intensity (at levels I rarely feel in theater these days) are made possible by the brutal trifecta of the well-written material, a current political environment that looms uncomfortably just below the surface of the depictions witnessed on stage, and talent that seems to comprehend their material exceptionally well.
This intimate cast navigates the modern material directly and with genuine nuance, not giving in to over acting or “acting” to be honest. The emotional arcs are well traversed by a cast with palpable chemistry and each character/actor has moments of strength and weakness. While all the performances satisfied, the actress playing Jory stood out as nearly flawless. She somehow managed to gift the audience access to a map – pinpointing each moment of her emotional evolution to an exact latitude and longitude. We got her. We knew exactly where she was coming from and I think unanimously enjoyed her journey.
Disgraced also give us another great San Jose Stage set complete with an exceptional lighting design, a suggestive and provocative sound design, and solid staging that flows as naturally as the dialogue does. The authentic realism threaded into every element of the technical design was totally appreciated. Among the technical components were two large challenges that needed to live up to expectation and couldn’t detract from the realist momentum of the production. One of two (I can’t give either away) definitely succeeded in a gasp-I- didn’t-see-that-coming kind of way. The other might have been a damn near impossible effect given the build-up, but it was certainly much better than I was expecting. Both were moments that were hard for theater, but would have been easy for film, which always ruffles my feathers. I like my theater to be written for the stage exclusively without hints of “wouldn’t this moment work better as a film?”
A good production though heavy and disturbing, Disgraced demands 4 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara. It’s eerie, provocative and a darkly relevant production that might change you. It will likely shed some new light on your own perspectives and prejudices. It will certainly cause some silence while you process and then conversation after experiencing it. Disgraced plays through February 26th, 2017 at the San Jose Stage in downtown San Jose.