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Legal Ethics Aside, Disgraced is a Hit!

By Lisa Fantino
Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist and solo practitioner who has just released her first novel, a political murder mystery, "Shrouded in Pompei" (http://authorlisafantino.com/) She has a general practice firm in Mamaroneck, New York, where she focuses on entertainment as well as general transactional and litigation matters. She can be found at http://www.LisaFantino.com.

There's a reason that a literary work earns a Pulitzer award, and Disgraced on Broadway is it (http://www.boneaubryanbrown.com/press/image/display/class/full/id/3134). Disgraced is probing, insightful, intelligent and funny, all while sitting on the cutting edge of rubbing almost everyone the wrong way.

Humanity can't help but destroy itself by allowing its differences to fester into violent confrontations toward supremacy. In the past, the differences which divided us were more isolated, geographically dispersed and somewhat easier to ignore. Yet all that has changed in the 21st century, and as the regional boundaries of culture, tradition, politics and religion have all but been erased in this virtual world, other boundaries have been created as outsiders try to assimilate to a new world order. Disgraced brings it all to the front, to the places we know exist but yet try to ignore, to the beliefs which are so ingrained in each of us that maybe, just maybe unity is not meant for humanity.

Disgraced is basically the story of how a lapsed Muslim attorney tries to fit into life in New York City post-911. He is on the litigation partner track, or so he believes, at a top law firm. However, his career path is potholed with deceit, bias and assumptions or misconceptions that make his character come face-to-face with his past in the present. It comes to a head during an explosive dinner party with one of his colleagues and her husband in the apartment he shares with his artist wife.

What is revealed during this wonderfully directed, tightly acted scene is the internal struggle we each possess between what we've learned, our culture, our heritage, and what we know to be morally correct. Lead character Amir Kapoor, brilliantly played by Hari Dhillon, is forced to cough up his ethical missteps bit by bit as the self-serving interests of each character come to the fore. His colleague, Jory, smartly portrayed by Karen Pittman, a black woman in a Jewish firm, struggles with the fact that she's been given a partner slot while the "ex-Muslim" Amir has worked for it harder and longer, highlighting that Muslims may be the new Blacks when it comes to racial profiling. She's now accepted and he's not.

For attorneys in the audience, the ethical violations in this scene are glaring. Amir seems to think that changing his clothing while denouncing his Muslim upbringing will distance himself from his roots. He admits to changing his name and getting a new social security number, but fails to disclose these things when applying to the Bar or his new firm. He truly believes that failure to disclose is not the same thing as lying. Yet such an ethical sidestep goes to the very heart of what we as professionals swear to uphold - the integrity and competence of the legal profession, which is the core principle of Canon I of the Code of Professional Conduct.

While EC 1-7 of the Code holds that attorneys should treat all with dignity and respect and refrain from bias, what does it say about a society where an American-born Muslim feels ashamed to identify his own heritage and a law firm feels the need to dismiss him for his political beliefs? We are human, and while we should avoid such prejudices in theory, our cultural roots are as much a part of our DNA as the color of our skin and eyes. As Amir proudly and defiantly states, "It's tribal...it's in the bones."

Pre-911, New York City was a metropolis where the stereotypes which plagued the culture were that blacks were violent gangstas, Latinos were thieves with blades, and Jews were liberal advocates for Israel. Post-911, those stereotypes still exist but have all but been obliterated by the overwhelming bias against Muslims, be they foreign or domestic born.

So, what do you get when you have a Jew, a WASP, a black woman and an ex-Muslim at a tiny dinner table? An explosion of talent as the hot button issues of religion, politics, sex and racial profiling are the catalyst for a night of great theater on Broadway.

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