Kripalani back on stage

Written by playwright Ayad Akhtar, Disgraced's Singapore adaptation will star Gaurav Kripalani (left) as a successful lawyer in New York.
Written by playwright Ayad Akhtar, Disgraced's Singapore adaptation will star Gaurav Kripalani (left) as a successful lawyer in New York.ST PHOTO: DON CHI

Singapore Repertory Theatre's artistic and managing director Gaurav Kripalani plays a lawyer in the upcoming play, Disgraced

After 20 years working the scenes offstage, the artistic and managing director of the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) has decided to retread the boards.

Gaurav Kripalani, 45, will take a lead role in Disgraced, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about post-9/11 religious and racial tension in New York. It runs from Nov 16 to Dec 4 at KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT and is written by Pakistani-American playwright Ayad Akhtar.

Kripalani plays Amir, a successful South Asian lawyer in New York hosting a dinner party. Polite conversation with an African-American colleague and her Jewish husband leads to explosive confrontation over Amir's support of an imam who is in jail for allegedly financing terror-linked groups.

"This really is one of the best written, nuanced scripts I've come across," says Kripalani, who was worried that SRT might not be allowed to stage the play here.

Disgraced has been given an M18 rating in Singapore. Theatre stalwarts Daniel Jenkins and Ghafir Akbar are also in the production.

  • BOOK IT / DISGRACED

  • WHERE: KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT , 20 Merbau Road

    WHEN: Nov 16 to Dec 4, 8pm (Tuesdays to Sundays)

    ADMISSION: $35 to $60 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Rated M18 - mature theme

The director is Nate Silver, who has been involved with the play since it debuted in 2012.

Kripalani did a degree in acting and is a theatre graduate from Santa Clara University in the United States. Many may know him better these days as an impresario.

Under Kripalani and executive director Charlotte Nors, SRT has produced or co-produced a range of critically acclaimed shows and blockbusters. There was The Bridge Project from 2009 to 2011, which staged classic Shakespearean plays here with Hollywood actors such as Ethan Hawke and Kevin Spacey.

Last year, SRT brought in Battlefield, legendary director Peter Brook's coda to his epic Mahabharata. SRT was also one of the producers of The LKY Musical, which won Adrian Pang a best actor prize at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards this year.

As a result, few remember that in the 1990s, Kripalani had several roles on stage and screen. He played the teacher in SRT's musical adaptation of the Ho Minfong novel, Sing To The Dawn. He was Guildenstern, one of the Danish prince's comrades, in the 1997 staging of Hamlet - his last time on stage.

On screen, he made an appearance in TV sitcom Under One Roof and co-hosted a car show. In the 1999 movie Rogue Trader, starring Ewan McGregor as disgraced executive Nick Leeson, Kripalani played a Reuters journalist.

Managing SRT took up more and more time, Kripalani says, so he put acting on the backburner.

Then, last November, SRT did a one-night staging of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit to raise funds for its student education fund. The play by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour requires a cold reading from an actor with no knowledge of the script.

Kripalani says: "With my workload and schedule, the idea of being handed the script and not having to rehearse was great."

The experience planted a seed of longing to return to the stage. It flowered when one of the American actors cast in Disgraced told SRT that he could not commit to the run.

Kripalani decided to step in. "The role is a successful South Asian lawyer in New York," he says. "I went: 'I can do that.'"

As the artistic and managing director of SRT, he is often on tenterhooks before opening night. Next month's production of Disgraced is more high stakes than usual. The reception is likely to dictate whether he continues to appear as an actor.

"Everyone is going to be like: 'Huh. Can he act?' But I have always lived by the philosophy 'go hard or go home'. I'm hoping people love it and it's a big success. And if it's not, then c'est la vie."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Kripalani back on stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe