Review Fix chats with “Disgraced” actor Afrim Gjonbalaj who discusses his role in the production, as well as how he prepared for the who and who will enjoy it the most.
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Amir Kapoor, a breath away from making partner in his NYC law firm, is living the “American Dream.” That dream, however, could come crashing down after Amir and his wife Emily host a dinner party for co-workers at their upscale Manhattan apartment, and find it’s their actions and intentions on the menu instead. Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this daring, explosive play questions our perception of identity and religion in a fractured 21st Century America.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in this project?
Afrim Gjonbalaj: A good friend of mine who I went to Buffalo State College with, Mara Westerling Morris reached out to me and said I needed to read DISGRACED by Ayad Akhtar and that Road Less Traveled Productions was going to be doing it in Buffalo NY. After reading it I felt immediately connected to it. So I reached out to the Artistic Director of RLTP and told him I’d love to audition for the role of Amir. I live in Brooklyn and I drove up to Buffalo for the meeting, set an audition date and drove up again to audition. I wanted to let them know how serious and insane I was for this role, haha. It was worth all 16 hours of driving.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy this show the most?
Gjonbalaj: People who like to ask questions of the world and themselves. This isn’t a spectacle or a musical it’s a throwback, in many ways, a modern day Greek tragedy.
Review Fix: What’s the feeling like on set? How has the cast come together?
Gjonbalaj: The cast has come together in an amazing way. It’s hard emotional content to deal with for all of us. everyone involved has been beyond supportive and ready for the challenges of the play. This has been the most fulfilling work of my career professionally thus far.
Review Fix: How have your prior roles prepared you for this one?
Gjonbalaj: Confidence and the ability to trust myself in silent moments. If I didn’t have my prior experiences there’d be no way I could have done this play.
Review Fix: What has your research process been like?
Gjonbalaj: Brushing up on my Islamic studies and world religions studies which was one of my favorite subjects in college. Also reading and listening to a lot of Ayad Akhtar’s work. I’m currently finishing America Dervish, one of Akhtar’s novels. It’s fantastic.
Review Fix: What have you learned about yourself through this production?
Gjonbalaj: I was raised Muslim and this play talks about religion, politics, culture in an intelligent and deeply human way. With that said, I could have easily been Amir in real life if I hadn’t chosen a path of expression in the arts. It also made me very aware of the painful results of bottled up emotions and not authentically living life. In life we all need to write our own scripts, actively choose the lives we want, hopefully, while being positive, supportive and loving to each other.
Review Fix: Why does this production matter?
Gjonbalaj: In my opinion, the world, especially the united states, is filled with overwhelming academic intelligence but suffers from emotionally adolescent. The blame is always being pointed and thrown at someone else or some other group, someone is always “taking someone’s jobs,” “guns,” someone is always “oppressing us,” etc, etc. This production matters because it shows that we are all human and we all have biases. If the show is done right, the audience connects with people who aren’t like them (or maybe they are) and then they realize there is no “other”. It’s a human experience.
Review Fix: What are you looking forward to accomplishing the most with this project?
Gjonbalaj: It started coming together when many audience members on different nights asked “What can we do to be better with each other?” not just any one ethnic group or socio-economic either. I was moved to tears many times because that’s one of my life dreams, to do challenging work that makes people question the world and want to be better to themselves and each other.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Gjonbalaj: Patrick Hickey Jr. you are awesome and I need you do my voice mail in the Padre voice and a copy of your book The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Video Game Developers.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Gjonbalaj: Back to Brooklyn and working on a few projects that hopefully we can talk about soon, shhhhh.