With an assured and intimate voice, playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar's stories cleverly slide across religion, tradition, sexuality and the dangerous if sometimes comical predicaments endured by Muslims in a post-Sept. 11 world hardened by incendiary politics and "us" versus "them" prejudices.
His work is intricately American, revealing the strains and joys of Muslims, many of them immigrants, trying to hold on to their ancestry while assimilating into a nation that celebrates diversity yet takes intense pride — and a degree of security — in counting the ways in which we're the same.
Akhtar won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for his play "Disgraced," the tale of a Pakistani American lawyer struggling with identity and repressed rage. The writer holds Islam and its followers and detractors up to a prism that exposes contradictions and unreconciled differences flowing beneath social and cultural veneers. His new play, "The Who & the What," whose world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse runs until March 9, touches on similar themes when a daughter's book about women in Islam and its portrayal of the prophet Muhammad riles her conservative father.