“Disgraced” – Arizona Theatre Company and “Florencia en el Amazonas” – Arizona Opera

This review aired on KBAQ November 16, 2015


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Two different but rewarding performing arts events greeted Phoenix audiences this past weekend when Arizona Theatre Company premiered a smashing production of the recent Broadway hit “Disgraced” and Arizona Opera premiered a fine presentation of the first Spanish opera commissioned in the United States, “Florencia en el Amazonas.”

You will never guess where “Disgraced” is headed when the 90 minute play begins and launches into a wild ride as characters evolve, develop, and change with split-second dialogue revelations about their biases and beliefs.  This masterful script that starts with amusing antidotes and grows into a disturbing exploration of personality quirks and inconsistencies that reveals how little you really know about people you think you understand is why Ayad Akhtar’s play won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Amir, a successful Muslim-American lawyer, is married to waspish liberal artist Emily.  They plan a dinner party for two friends, Isaac, a Whitney Museum curator who hopes to present a show of Emily’s work, and his wife, Jory, an African-American lawyer in the same firm as Amir.  A nephew, Abe, provides more feelings about race and the things people do to fit in.

The lively discussion about racial injustice turns and twists in strange and unexpected ways as it reveals very private feelings about what people think is right and wrong and how preconceived expectations of people can be seriously flawed.  The dialogue is revealingly vibrant as it shifts from initially amusing to shockingly real as truths emerge.

The ATC production is directed with suave style and brilliant pacing by David Ira Goldstein as his flawless staging provides the perfect emphasis for the play’s multitude of revelatory nuances.  Five superb actors provide extraordinary character development as each persons’ quirks and flaws develop with sublimely clever subtleties.  Even the classy set, “a spacious apartment on New York’s Upper East Side,” helps with the play’s vivid character revelations.  “Disgraced” is a fine play and the ATC production couldn’t be better.  It continues through November 29.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-252-8497 or order online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A

Arizona Opera, Symphony Hall
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Opera presented an interesting musical event when it staged the local premiere of Daniel Catan’s 1996 “Florencia en el Amazonas” at Symphony Hall.  The opera had a touching story inspired by the “magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez” that is presented as a journey through love and desire set on a boat traveling the Amazon River.  A passenger, Florencia Grimaldi, is an opera star hoping to find her long lost lover, Cristobal, a butterfly hunter who disappeared in the jungle.  After a challenging journey ends with an outbreak of cholera, Florencia fails to find her lover but continues to dream of an eventual reuniting.

Catan’s melodic score sails pleasantly as the story develops in a flawless production guided by stage director Joshua Borths and conducted majestically by Joseph Mechavich.  Most impressive was a dynamic young cast of opera professionals who soared through the music artfully.  It was welcome to attend an unknown but finely performed opera.  “Florencia en el Amazonas” continues this weekend in Tucson.  For tickets, call the Arizona Opera box office at 602-266-7464 in Phoenix or 520-293-4336 in Tucson or order online at www.azopera.org.

Grade: B