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Haram Iran by Jay Paul Deratany – Los Angeles Theater Review

 

FORBIDDEN FRUIT

 

picture - Haram IranTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published March 21, 2010

 

Haram Iran

now playing in Los Angeles at the Celebration Theatre

through April 4

 

When the Shah of Iran was deposed, a young Iranian woman, in exile in Paris, returned to her native country, hoping that things would change and that she could live again, free of despotism and corruption. Of course, as we all know, the Ayatollah, also in exile in Paris, returned as well and instituted a theocratic government that made the Shah’s pro-Western world look culturally if not socially progressive by comparison and dreams lay dying. In Jay Paul Deratany’s play Haram Iran, that young woman has become the mother of a young man who reads Defoe and Hugo and, of course, the book that most adolescents consider their bible, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, clandestinely taken from the basement of a Turkish man and given to the boy by his mother. The set-up isn’t a bad one and, from a seemingly comfortable place in our own culture, our rage at a repressive society keeps us riveted.  This plot, however, uses a real case that resulted in the hanging deaths of two young boys, Ayaz Marhouni and Mahmoud Asgari, who were accused of homosexual acts, apparently based on trumped-up charges; and, while the horrors of the event hold our interest and keeps us equally riveted (because we know how difficult it is for women and homosexuals to survive in the Muslim world of suppression), the danger lies in mixing truth with fiction.  And this is where Haram Iran fails utterly.

 

The story that Deratany has concocted is quite simply not worthy of the real drama that took place. In telling the story of two boys, one committed to the tribal traditions of his religion and appalled by the idea of homosexuality, the other steeped in more Western ideas and flirting dangerously with his own homosexuality and his love for the other, the playwright immediately jumps into a world that is familiar territory and piles cliché upon cliché, turning mushily sentimental when it should be more stringent, then lapsing, finally, into dramaturgical choices that are downright laughable and, when simplicity is demanded, confusion reigns. What happens may be the truth but it doesn’t seem like the truth, because theater and real life don’t always come together in such neatly patterned ways. A story this immediate and this urgent cries out for verisimilitude, not easy romanticizing. The boys seem to fall in love when what is at stake is greater than any fantasy about young men falling in love as they act out The Catcher in the Rye .

 

picture - Haram IranIt’s too bad, really, because if the play were better, the event could have been powerful. Michael Matthews has directed brilliantly, with passion and vigor and a wonderful eye for visual patterns and detail, and, if the dialogue was not so stilted, Narendra “Andy” Gala, in the role of Mahmoud, the boy tormented by his allegiance to his father’s traditions, could have given a breakthrough performance. As it is, he uses a soccer ball that he keeps dribbling as if it were the repository of all his sexual energy and frustration, and he shifts from one inchoate emotion to another with vivid intensity; he is sometimes so frighteningly authentic, one gets even angrier with the playwright for not delivering the goods. The production values of the Celebration Theatre are excellent. Kurt Boetcher’s set, particularly when backlit, has a texture and crudeness that splendidly suggests the rawness of time and place. It seems to be a capable enough cast, but the actors are drowned in the play’s inconsistencies and what can only be called its ultimate lies.

 

Therein lies the real problem of Haram Iran. It has taken its drama from the pages of truth and converted them into fiction of a cheap and flimsily predictable sort. It robs what is good in the production of its validity. And though the author is a lawyer, his most ill-written character is, you guessed it, a lawyer. That just about says it all. Some good theater people have plunged into this with serious intentions, and its subject matter deserves that kind of seriousness; but, ultimately, everyone's honest work is defeated by the play's internal dishonesty.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

photos by Russell Gearhart

 

 
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