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Beneath Vosooghi
"Az Maahvaareh Baa Eshgh" was more like "Az Maahvaareh Bikhod"

February 15, 2005

It was half past nine on a Sunday evening and the show was supposed to start anytime, well at least according to what was written on the ticket. Looking around the well-lit auditorium, the seats were not all filled like I had expected. It was surprising, given the rarity of the spectacle.

The seats which were filled contained a lot of peroxide and a few hairless heads. Many of them had hopped over the Persian Gulf to Dubai to make it to the last day of a highly publicized theatre production from Los Angeles. It had been years since the last time I had attended a theatrical play, making me all the more anxious to experience another, especially one with a famous celebrity.

I tried to entertain myself by searching for familiar faces in the aisles or backs of heads in the rows ahead of me. I managed to locate one friend sitting two rows down and five seats to my left. I hadn't seen her for months. She seemed to have aged. My watch read nine forty five and the stage was still empty.

Perhaps I should take a nap, I thought. Gazing at the aging friend, I reminisced on the wild New Year Eve's boat party two years ago. While we danced on The Creek, a few hundred miles away the Iraqis were desperately embracing for the anticipated bombing raid. Finally, the lights are dimmed and the show begins, half hour late.

Hooshang Tozi, the Iranian playwright/come actor, walks out on the set as Shahin, a surviving singer in some trashy Iranian cabaret in LA, and the owner of a desperately run Iranian satellite TV channel. Next is the sleazy TV hostess, whose endless flirtations with the owner, is supposed to convince him to allow her to host the RSVP music program. And then there is the supportive fiancée who is forever running about Shahin doing all his chores, hoping that one day he will marry her.

The general plot was amusing however I wasn't sure whether I was watching a Persian or an American production. The two female characters were flat out of the TV series "Friends", whose acting did not portray any Iranian female that I have known. It was almost like teaching Jennifer Aniston a few lines of Persian and allowing her to speak English as she liked while being her American self in an Iranian play.

What's worse is that the lines articulated were direct transliterations of a typical Californian conversation in an American situation comedy. I thought this is not authentic. It is out right plagiarism. The director of the play should have studied the females' characters more closely and matched it with reality. He should have been more sensitive to the difficulties of representing immigrant characters. The actors tend to adopt the native character because it's more prevalent and therefore, their acting skills may be good but their character representation is wrong. They should search and study their character in the Iranian community and not on American national television.

Even the name of the play, "Az Maahvaareh Baa Eshgh", was a transliteration of "Via Satellite, with love". It sounds a bit awkward in Persian and does not convey the true English meaning either. Perhaps "Az Maahvaareh Baa Mehr" would have been a better choice or better yet "Az Maahvaareh Bikhod".

The crowd seemed to enjoy the comedy within the character of the sleazy TV hostess and the mockery of the mushrooming Iranian Exile TV. Admittedly, the exaggerations were humorous but I wonder if the audience was as disappointed as I about the other aspects of the play.

Continuing on, the plot thickens when an older rich cousin from Germany, played by Behrooz Vosooghi, arrives in town only to shatter Shahin's dreams by telling him that he is not rich anymore therefore he can not be a sponsor for Shahin's TV program. This was after all the moaning and groaning dialogue about their forced departure from Iran and the pains they each had to endure, a story told a million times. The character allocated to Behrooz, I thought, was so beneath him it was too shameful to watch. A novice could have acted that part out, no need for Behrooz.

Then I realized what role he is really playing. He is exactly the selling point of this lousy play. Mind you that was the main reason why I went to the play in the first place. Given his place in the Iranian cinema, I think he was worthy of a significantly more challenging role to remind the audience of his position in the performing arts.

As the minutes ticked on, which seemed like hours, I was hoping that when the lights come on the silliness would be over and we could go home. I pondered over the many hours spent rehearsing roles and memorizing lines which only served to momentarily amuse the nostalgic spectators. Theatrical arts, as with other forms of art, are a nation's mouthpiece. Good theatre happens when the mouthpiece is used to inspire and educate. Perhaps I was expecting a bit too much.

The lights did come on finally but unfortunately a 10 minute break was announced. With a heavy sigh, I convinced myself to sit through the second half, however, as with all Iranian event schedules, the 10 minute break started to stretch into the 30 minute range at which time I just got up and left.

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