By Jay Paul Deratany; Directed by Rick Leidenfrost-Wilson
Produced by Creative Concept Productions
Part of Emerging Artist Theatre's New Work Series
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.20.17
TADA! Theater, 15 West 28th Street
by Ran Xia on 3.13.17
The cast of Haram! Iran! Photo by Hershey Miller.
BOTTOM LINE: Syrian playwright Jay Paul Deratany dramatizes the disturbing true story of two Iranian teenage boys' trial and conviction in 2005.
Tragedy is not desolation and dumpster fire from the get go. Indeed, it's looking at something beautiful destroyed in front of you, deliberately. In Haram! Iran!, reality becomes a lump in your throat and there is no happy ending at the end of the tunnel. Syrian playwright Jay Paul Deratany brings to stage a true story, and reveals to an American audience the insurmountable harm of a misogynistic and homophobic tyranny. It happened in 2005 Iran, yet it seems never more relevant today in the USA.
Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhouni are two 15-year-old boys in Mashad, Iran, both struggling with their identity and impending adulthood as Arab-Iranian minorities. Mahmoud (Rahul Rai) is a jock with failing grades, and gets assigned to study under the tutelage of Ayaz (Roberto Tolentino), an aspiring intellectual whose literary astuteness comes from his mother, a former professor. Over time, the unlikely pair become close friends, as Ayaz introduces Mahmoud to aspects of Western culture, including the rebellious adventures of Holden Caulfield, and Michelangelo's nude studies. The relationship between the boys starts to invite speculation, and a misunderstanding turns an innocent moment into a crime. Coming into play is an unjust Mullah who's more concerned about his own career than the lives of the two young boys, a homophobic and abusive prosecutor who coerces the captives into confessing, and a harsh justice system with unyielding rules about homosexuality. The boys are eventually sentenced to 200 lashes each, followed by death by public hanging for committing the ultimate "haram".
Haram is a Islamic concept that means anything that's forbidden by Allah. However, through the scope of Western culture many of the things considered "haram" might seem crucial to basic human rights. With a quick and playful exchange between Ayaz and Mahmoud, Deratany shows the extent of oppression in a post-revolution Iran. The memories of the two female characters are also revealing. Shirin (Sahar Bibiyan), a judge who was demoted and demoralized after the 1979 revolution, struggles to exercise her rights to practice law. And Mrs. Marhouni (Naama Potok), an intellectual who studied in Paris, still sings tunes from Les Miserables and feels hopeless about sharing her knowledge of the world with her son without being considered amoral.
Tolentino impressively portrays Ayaz as a complex individual who dreams of intellectual freedom in an oppressive society, simultaneously a carefree teenage boy and a mature decision maker who had to grow up too soon. He performs with equal passion the tentative yet undeniable tenderness towards Mahmoud, as well as his determined eventual self-sacrifice. There is a palpable tension between Ayaz and Mahmoud, reminiscent of the taboo, disastrous affair of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas. Another standout is Potok, who carves out a mother's despair with mastery; her raw emotions would move the hardest of hearts.
Unfortunately, the play itself has a tendency to be didactic, at times forcing the actors to speechify; the sudden stylistic shifts between Brechtian theater and naturalism also make it difficult to stay immersed in the story (except in the climactic scene in the court room, which is written to perfection.) Of course the piece has a commendable theme and is important theatre. If only the team could really trust the power of the story itself more, and let it overtake our hearts without overly emphasizing the "message."
Haram! Iran! shows a harsh reality in modern day Iran, and is a warning about the harm an oppressive tyranny can do to its people. Stepping into TADA! for Haram! Iran!, you are not exactly in for an evening of entertainment, but for a cautionary tale and a potent shot of reality that almost seems dystopian, but is really not so distant if we're not careful. It really makes you think about the blurred line between what's legal and illegal, what's right and wrong, as well as whether the law is made to benefit the majority of people, or the already advantaged.
(Haram! Iran! plays at TADA! Theater, 15 West 28th Street, through March 20, 2017. The running time is 1 hour 50 minutes without intermission. Performances are Friday at 9; Saturday at 7; and Sunday at 2. Tickets are $20 and are available at brownpapertickets.com. For more information visit haramiran.org.)
Haram! Iran! by Jay Paul Deratany, based on a true story. Directed by Rick Leidenfrost-Wilson. Fight Coordinator is Alex Ringler. Set Design is by A. J. Mattioli. Lighting Design is by Roger Cooper. Sound Design is by Nicholas Kennedy. Costume Design is by Jess Gersz. Assistant Director is Amir Darvish. Stage Manager is Courtney Ferrell.
The cast is Naama Potok, Roberto Tolentino, Rahul Rai, Sahar Bibiyan, Kal Mansoor, Colin Mulligan, Russel Jordan and Thamer Jendoubi.