Playwright can’t repair the world however hopes to make it a tiny bit higher


Set in Karaj, a metropolis simply west of Tehran, Sanaz Toossi’s one-act play “English” facilities on 4 Iranian adults learning English in preparation for taking the Take a look at of English as a International Language, or TOEFL examination — the important thing, they hope, to both private or skilled alternatives overseas. As they work together with each other and with their instructor, Marjan (Nazanin Nour), they expertise emotions of self-discovery, in addition to humiliation and alienation, that may include making an attempt to study one other language.

“On daily basis in right here, I really feel like fool, and I need everybody to know I’m not fool,” says Elham (Tara Grammy), who expresses her frustration most overtly among the many group.

For the Iranian American playwright, there’s a bigger purpose: Toossi hopes that latest occasions in Iran — the place a months-long protest motion that started within the fall represents the biggest sustained public opposition to the Islamic regime in over a decade — will lend a better timeliness to her present, now having its Washington premiere at Studio Theatre.

“After I wrote [this], Iran was not in the course of a revolution,” she says. “I imagine what is going on now’s a revolution.”

Evaluate: The protests in Iran make this humorous play all of the stronger

The scholars wrestle with not solely the linguistic challenges of English but additionally their conflicting motivations and even resentments towards studying it. Elham needs to check gastroenterology in Australia however has already failed the TOEFL 5 occasions; the older Roya (Nina Ameri) hopes to hitch her son and his spouse in “the Canada” however is distressed by their having given her granddaughter a reputation, Claire, that she will be able to’t even pronounce. Marjan, for all her measured formality, seems to harbor insecurities about her personal command of the language.

Toossi, 31, wrote “English” a number of years in the past whereas an MFA scholar at New York College, in response to a different interval of political disruption: the Trump period. Inside days of Donald Trump taking workplace, his administration imposed a journey ban stopping folks from seven Muslim-majority international locations, together with Iran, from getting into america.

“After I wrote the play, I hoped merely that we might be higher to the individuals who have immigrated to this nation, and that we might perceive that … they’re three-dimensional individuals who left issues behind, you realize?” Toossi says over Zoom from Los Angeles, the place she has lately moved.

“English,” which premiered (after some pandemic-related delays) at New York’s Atlantic Theater Firm in 2022, obtained the Lucille Lortel Award for excellent new off-Broadway play final 12 months. In his overview of that manufacturing, Washington Put up critic Peter Marks described the play as “a reminder that the aggressive public face of a rustic, whether or not an Iran or a Russia, doesn’t pretty signify the face of its public.”

Certainly, Toossi hopes her work can fill a spot in American theater, which has provided few nuanced depictions of extraordinary Iranians onstage. “I simply grew up so pissed off with what folks thought being an Iranian was,” says the playwright, who was raised by Iranian immigrant mother and father in Orange County, Calif., and made common journeys to their homeland as a baby. “I’ve at all times wished folks to see who we’re. We got here from this stunning, vibrant tradition; we’re individuals who love poetry, and artwork. My grandfather even in his late levels of dementia was nonetheless reciting poetry.”

Studio’s manufacturing is ready in spring 2009, within the lead-up to the pro-democracy Inexperienced Motion that swept Iran after the disputed reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, however that’s roughly incidental. Toossi writes in a broadly comedic vein that retains the deal with the characters’ emotions and moods, reasonably than bigger social or political dynamics.

In “English” and her second play, “Want You Had been Right here,” which additionally premiered off-Broadway in New York final 12 months, virtually all of Toossi’s characters are feminine, one thing she says took place unconsciously. “My expertise of being in Iran is being surrounded by … fierce, loud, typically irritating however very loving girls,” she says, with amusing. “So it’s simply formed a lot of me.”

That Iran’s present unrest — which started in response to the dying of a 22-year-old lady, Mahsa Amini, in custody of the “morality police” in September — has been led by girls makes Toossi’s emphasis on feminine characters all of the extra compelling.

Notably, all 5 actors in “English” are of Iranian heritage; Toossi describes Nour — who was born and grew up in Arlington, Va. — and Grammy as being “form of like diaspora royalty.” Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, who performs Omid, the considerably mysterious sole male scholar, grew up in Westminster, Md., and has appeared in quite a few D.C.-area productions.

Nour and Grammy specifically have attracted massive social media followings for his or her outspokenness in regards to the protests. (Nour took over Ellen DeGeneres’s Instagram Tales at an LA rally in October.) As this system notes, “A number of of the actors in Studio’s manufacturing of ‘English’ are amplifying the voices of Iranians with out the identical freedoms to protest.”

Toossi admits she isn’t certain whether or not theater actually can change the world. However, she hopes that her play will “assist my fellow Iranians” by drawing consideration to their trigger, if nothing else. “I simply really feel very knocked over by the braveness Iranian girls are exhibiting us daily … and I hope we will help them in constructing a world worthy of them.”

Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. 202-332-3300.

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