By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Jan 17, 2017 at 11:03 AM

It could hardly be more appropriate to our times that The Milwaukee Rep unveils a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about Muslims in America the very week that we are getting a new president who has made Muslims a target of his vitriolic political campaign.

The show is "Disgraced," the first play written by Brookfield Central graduate Ayad Akhtar and the one that earned him the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for best drama. The president, of course, is Donald Trump, who has ranged far and wide in his condemnation of Muslims and has helped to create the climate of fear that is sweeping the nation.

"Disgraced" is set at a dinner party and features two couples, an ex-Muslim, a black, a Jew and a WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) in a discussion of religious politics and ethics. It’s a powerful production – and one that the audience takes with them well after it ends.

"Increasingly, it’s become impossible to exist in any non-politicized way in this country if you’re Muslim," Akhtar said in an interview with the Journal-Sentinel. "The way that people are speaking to each other now in public – when I wrote the play you could never have imagined that people would actually say those things in public that they were saying on stage."

The play opens Friday night, while Trump and his wife are having their first dance as the president and first lady at their inauguration party. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d think The Rep knew something well before the rest of us.

"Just coincidence," Rep managing director Chad Bauman said. "It was programmed almost 18 months ago, and opening falls on inauguration only because of our tight play schedule. We always open the third play in the powerhouse at this time of year."

No matter what Bauman says, The Rep is escalating its programming that surrounds productions like this one. Last season, The Rep staged a number of discussion groups surrounding issues raised in "American Song," and it continues that effort around "Disgraced."

The Rep is the theater in town that has the kind of resources needed to stage these kinds of events, and taking advantage of these opportunities will affirm the efforts that The Rep makes to expand the community discussion.

There are a lot of outside programs being offered by The Rep, such as:

Intercultural dinners

Every Monday during the run of the show, The Rep will host 100 people from diverse backgrounds to have dinner and talk about who we are, where we come from, and why it is important to us and our community. Guests will share their own experiences in a safe space, with conversations led by moderators from the InterFaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.

Conversation with playwright Ayad Akhtar

Community members can join Milwaukee’s own Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright for this special pre-show conversation on Wednesday, Jan. 18. Tickets for that evening performance are required for entry.

Facilitated dialogues

Every Tuesday, Thursday and weekend evenings following the performance, join your fellow audience members in a well-rounded and fulfilling post-show reflection led by professional discussion leaders from the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion.

Panel discussions

After select performances, experts will discuss themes in the play with Rep audiences, including:

Identity Politics on Jan. 21 after the 4 p.m. performance

Moderated by Nate Imig, managing producer & community partnerships manager for 88Nine Radio Milwaukee with panelists Andy Nunemaker, CEO of Dynamis Software Corporation; Richard Esenberg, president of Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) and Paula Penebaker, president & CEO at the YWCA Southeast Wisconsin.

No Politics at Dinner: How do we discuss difficult topics? on Jan. 22 after the 2 p.m. performance

Moderated by Jim Higgins, arts & books editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with panelists Dr. Katherine Wilson, executive director of the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion; Dr. Irfan A. Omar, associate professor of theology at Marquette and editor of "Islam and Other Religions: Pathways to Dialogue" (2006) and "A Christian View of Islam: Essays on Dialogue by Thomas F. Michel, SJ" (2010); Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council and Bonnie North, "Lake Effect" co-host/arts producer at 89.7 WUWM.

Being Brown: The complexities of identity in post-9/11 America on Jan. 28 after the 4 p.m. performance

Moderated by Rahul Dubey, information security analyst for Rockwell Automation with panelists Dr. Louise Cainkar, president of the Arab American Studies Association, Marquette associate professor, and author of "Homeland Security: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience after 9/11"; David Muhammad, violence prevention manager at the City of Milwaukee Health Department, and Mohammad ElBsat, senior engineer at Johnson Controls.

Identity in the Workplace on Feb. 4 after the 4 p.m. performance

Moderated by Mark Kass, editor-in-chief of the Milwaukee Business Journal with panelists Vivian King, vice president of community relations at Aurora Health Care and Raquel Filmanowicz, director of U.S. community affairs at BMO Harris Bank.

Journeys of Self: Evolving Identities on Feb. 12 after the 2 p.m. performance

Moderated by Nate Imig, managing producer & community partnerships manager for 88Nine Radio Milwaukee with panelists Pastor Marilyn Miller, pastor of The Lutheran Church of the Reformation; Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum, rabbi at Congregation Shir Hadash, and Sarah DeGeorge, executive assistant at the UWM

Intercultural and actor TalkBacks

Each week, you can hear from community members as they share their unique experiences and insights gained from the intercultural dinners. Also, actors from "Disgraced" will take audience questions and share their perspectives on the complex issues in the play. TalkBacks take place on Wednesdays following the 7:30 p.m. performance starting Jan. 25; Sundays, Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 after the 2 p.m. performance; and Saturday, Feb. 11 following the 4 p.m. performance.


A pre-show conversation with Austene Van, who plays Jory in the show, occurs approximately 45 minutes before curtain for every performance.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.