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Several months ago, Crow’s Theatre produced Natal’ya Vorozhbit’s Bad Roads, a riveting play about Russia’s brutal invasion of part of Ukraine and its continuing assault on an innocent nation. Now, with Nowadays Theatre it has staged a play about the theocratic and equally horrific regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Earworm by Mohammad Yaghoubi is an indictment of the theocracy that runs Iran with a viciousness that is reminiscent of Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany and so many others. The play has four characters. Homa (Aida Keykhaii) and her son Pendar (Amir Maghami) live in Canada after having lived in a prison in Iran where the mother was kept in solitary confinement for four months and years in captivity. Pendar is shown wearing a University of Toronto sweater and we may assume that he is a student.
The two argue about what the mother should wear when they plan to meet the other two people in the play, Pendar’s girlfriend Fatemeh (Parya Heravi) and her father Mohammad (Amir Zavosh). The liberated Homa puts on a very short dress – I thought it was a bathing suit – and declares herself independent of the archaic attire of scarves and hijab. Her son wants her to be more conservative to please his girlfriend’s father. For the visit she is dressed conservatively but without a hijab or a scarf.
Fatemeh loves her traditional father and is trying to get him to change his ways. The visit begins with some awkward moments and develops into an explosive situation when Homa realizes that Mohammad was in fact her interrogator while she was in prison. It is an incredibly dramatic discovery.
There is no doubt about the dramatic content of the plot but I suggest that the play has some basic problems. The dialogue is often awkward, repetitive and creaky. Conversations that have made their point continue for unnecessary lengths. There is a lack of cohesiveness and tautness that takes away from the dramatic plot.
The actors may have substantial experience but, in this production, they appeared uneasy and unable to communicate with the audience. Keykhaii has a thick accent and she is talking with her son whose enunciation is uncertain. In real life they would be talking in Parsi and the accent should be modified or even almost eliminated. Mohammad mumbles more than he speaks his lines as if he were put on the stage against his will. Heravi’s English is less accented but again there were issues with her delivery and conviction.
These actors may sound much better if they spoke their native Farsi rather than English. The play can be seen in Farsi with English subtitles and I suspect it would sound much better with the actors not struggling with English.
The arrest and torture for not wearing a hijab of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini haunts the play and resonates in the life of Homa. Amini is a potent symbol and a haunting reminder of life in Iran. Her subsequent death on September 16, 2022, in the hands of Teheran’s Morality Police could have been Homa’s fate when she was in jail or interrogated by Mohammad. The recognition of Mohammad by Homa as her interrogator is, as I said explosive, but he reacts as if he has not been there or had anything to do with her.
The play falls apart at this point. We get an editorial comment that Yaghoubi finished the first draft of the play, and there was a suicide but he decided to change the ending.
Then another scene follows with Homa giving a speech condemning the ruthless regime of Iran. The effectiveness of her speech was reduced because she lacked the eloquence that it demands. Again, I think she would sound much better if she spoke in her native language without the impediments of uncertain handling of English.
The idea of changing the ending or supplementing it is not the best solution. Yaghoubi could use a dramaturge for many parts of the play but writing a version with whatever conclusion he wanted is surely preferable to the awkward notice to the audience of what he did and wanted to do.
Earworm is a good first draft of a play and there was no reason to rush to production of an unfinished script with a cast that felt uncomfortable with the whole thing.
The play is produced by Nowadays Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre. It is directed by Yaghoubi who is also the founder of Nowadays Theatre.
Earworm by Mohammad Yaghoubi in a production by Nowadays Theatre and Crow’s Theatre opened on February 13 and continues until February 26, 2024, in the Studio Theatre of Streetcar/Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.

February 23, 2024
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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