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Shirine Babb stars in Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘Disgraced’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Shirine Babb stars in Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘Disgraced’
Benim Foster (left) and Shirine Babb star in “Disgraced.” (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Actress Shirine Babb fell in love with the language of Shakespeare when she was cast in the role of Hamlet during her freshman year in high school.

Since then, the New York native, who earned an MA from East 15 Acting Conservatory in London and a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre from The Old Globe Theatre Program at the University of San Diego in 2011, has appeared on Broadway opposite Ethan Hawke in “Macbeth” and co-starred in a production of “The Merchant of Venice” with Sir Derek Jacobi.

“Shakespeare in general deals with human complexity on many different levels. The more that you look into the play there’s a lot that reveals itself in it,” says Babb by phone recently about why Shakespeare still resonates today. It’s one of the reasons why the actress loves the rehearsal process of being in a Shakespearean production. “We get to peel away the layers of his work because the deeper you go the more that’s revealed to you.”

No stranger to playing meaty roles or tackling the Bard, the actress is set to star as Jory in the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Disgraced,” opening on Friday at the Avenue of the Arts/BU Theatre.

Written by award-winning playwright, novelist and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar, and directed by Gordon Edelstein, the contemporary play explores race relations and Muslim identity in America between two modern-day high-powered couples: Amir and Emily and Jory and Isaac.

Babb plays Jory, an African American lawyer in New York who is married to Isaac (Benim Foster), a Jewish art curator. She was drawn to the role of Jory because of “her strength, her ambition, and who she is as a woman in this time and age, especially for an African American woman,” explains the actress.

If You Go

The Huntington Theatre Company, in association with Long Wharf Theatre presents “Disgraced,” Friday, January 8, through February 7, 2016, at the Avenue of the Arts / BU Theatre. Single tickets starting at $25 and FlexPasses are on sale online at www.huntingtontheatre.org; by phone at 617.266.0800 or in person at the BU Theatre Box Office, 264 Huntington Ave. and the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA Box Office, 527 Tremont St. in Boston’s South End.

Select discounts apply: $5 off: seniors; $10 off: subscribers and BU community (faculty/staff/alumni); $30 “35 Below” tickets for patrons 35 years old and younger (valid ID required); $20 student and military tickets (valid ID required).

Jory works in a Wall Street law firm with Amir (Rajesh Bose), an American-born, Muslim-raised attorney who has achieved great success in climbing the corporate ladder, all the while distancing himself from his Muslim roots. The couple is invited to a dinner party at the home of Amir and his artist wife Emily (Nicole Lowrance). What begins as an evening of gaiety soon turns into a tense and heated discussion about race and religion after it comes to light that Amir is defending an Imam accused of funding terrorists.

This is Babb’s second time playing Jory. She first assumed the role last fall at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. Since then, the actress has experienced a shift in her own thinking about justice, especially with recent events like the death of Tamir Rice. At one time, Babb thought, “If we really go out there and follow the rules and do what we need to do, that we would receive our due. And, more and more I’m finding that just based on every day headlines, what’s going on, and recent events that it’s all b.s.”

Babb goes on to say that “you have to fight for what you believe in because justice will not be given to you. I think that’s what has changed for me as far as the last time I played her. There are certain things in the text that stand out more so now. I think it has more light and truth to it because of recent events.”

In light of the recent tragedies, the actress can’t help but bring that filter into her character.

“I think you have to bring it into your story because that’s the reason why it was written. It was 10 years after the World Trade but there was still this xenophobia and just people’s misunderstanding of Muslims and Islam in general. I think that was the reason why he [Ayad Akhtar] wrote it and, even more so now, what happened in Paris.”

At the end of the day, the actress hopes that audiences will have a better understanding of themselves after seeing “Disgraced.”

“What I hope they take away is a reflection, a questioning, a discussion, and hopefully that will lead to change. Without sounding too cliché, I hope that with our play it can bring about change. I want people to see themselves in it and in turn go out to converse about it but also to change because that’s why I do what I do. I love what I do because of storytelling but there comes a time, there will come along the way, a play that you feel will bring about some type of change in your environment, and I think this is one of them.”

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