A Dead Man, a Wife, a Mistress, and a Daughter

Last March I went to see Darvag Theater’s play, In Memory of Kazem Ashtari with dear friends in Berkeley. I was blown away by the play’s original storyline, the crisp and clever dialogue, and the stellar performances of its cast. I found the whirlwind of plot twists and developments dazzling and so entertaining! Sepideh Khosrowjah’s dialogues all through a complex plot were exquisitely simple, yet thought provoking. What would a woman do when her husband dies suddenly? What would she and her late husband’s mistress tell each other if they were to meet? This story is delicious!

In Memory of Kazem Ashtari, written by Sepideh Khosrowjah and directed by Hamid Ehya, featuring Bella Warda, Sepideh Khosrowjah, Mansour Taeed, and Shadi Yousefian is going on stage again in Richmond, California this December. If you live in these parts, don’t miss it! You will be floored with amusement and entertainment. I decided it won’t do to just tell you about this! I have unofficially translated Scene 2 of this clever play which I share with you below. If you don’t live in these parts, stay tuned, for I hear sometime soon they plan on taking it on the road.

Jahanshah did photo essays on the play when it first came on stage last March [see “Winning Women“]. Ari Siletz also wrote a very interesting review of the play [“Back from the dead“]. Do something memorable for yourselves this December! Go see the play for yourselves! December 13, 14, 20, 21, 2008, Saturdays and Sundays at 8:00 p.m., Central Stage, 5221 Central Ave, Richmond, CA 94804. Tickets are $20. For Reservations call 510-595-4607 or visit: kazemashtari.blogspot.com

From the play site: “Kazem Ashtari, the Iranian film director, has died in a car crash, and now Mahin Ashtari, his wife, has to redefine herself after 30 years of marriage. This is a play about empowerment, revenge, sisterhood, and a lot more!”  

In Memory of Kazem Ashtari

A play by Sepideh Khosrowjah

From the book: Bird of Dawn and Two Other Plays

Pages 45-58 translated from Farsi by Nazy Kaviani

Second Scene

[The Ashtari home living room. Atefeh is talking on the phone, speaking quietly and carefully.]

Atefeh: No. It wasn’t there, either. Where? O.K. I will look there, too…Oh, yes, Mom went to the magazine publishing house. I told you, I’ll be there day after tomorrow. Fine, I will bring the poetry book. Don’t worry. Wait! Someone’s at the door. [She talks into the intercom] Who is it? [Surprised] Who? Yes, please come up. [Into the phone] I have to go. Someone’s here. Shafagh, yes, Shafagh Gooya. I don’t know what she wants here.

[There’s a knock on the door]

…O.K. I’ll tell you when I see you. Yes! I have to go, she is at the door. Love you. Goodbye till day after tomorrow.

[She opens the door. Shafagh is an attractive woman with sunglasses, a black coat and a black scarf.]

Atefeh: Please come in! [Shafagh enters]

Shafagh: I won’t bother you! Is your Mom home?

Atefeh: No. But she’ll be right back. Please have a seat. Would you like some tea?

Shafagh: Yes, please.

Atefeh: Here we go.

Shafagh: I hadn’t been here in ages; it has changed a lot.

Atefeh: When were you here last?

Shafagh: I think it was five years ago.

Atefeh: Yes, it has changed a lot since then. [She goes forward and takes Shafagh’s robe and scarf.]

Shafagh: Atefeh Joon, I’m so sorry about your Dad’s loss. It must be so hard for you! Because you weren’t here when this happened. Kazem…Mr. Ashtari loved you very much. He always talked about you. He told me he last time he and your mother went to US to receive their US citizenship, as he was saying goodbye to you, his heart was jumping out of his mouth.

Atefeh: Yes. My father and I were very close. We always talked about you, too!

Shafagh: Yes, I’m sure. When was the last time I saw you?

Atefeh: I can’t remember. Your tea is getting cold.

Shafagh: I like my tea cold. [She takes a long look at Atefeh.] You look just like your Dad. You have his eyes. How old are you?

Atefeh: Twenty eight.

Shafagh: [Smiles] You are so young, good for you! I read somewhere that you are writing a script about the theme of love in Iranian cinema after the Revolution. [She sits down and picks up her tea cup.] Will you be also be reviewing some of your father’s films?

Atefeh: Yes!

Shafagh: I’m surprised the tabloids didn’t lie this time! Which of your father’s films will you use?

Atefeh: I’m not sure yet. Maybe one of the ones about love. I don’t know my father’s films that well.

Shafagh: I have a copy of all his movies over the past ten years. Come see me one day and perhaps we can pick a few of them together…

[Shafagh can’t finish her sentence. The door opens and Mahin enters. She looks thinner and more elegant. Mahin doesn’t see Shafagh, and looks at Atefeh standing there. Atefeh is frozen, looking at her mother with worry.]

Atefeh: [Harried] Salam. [She look towards Shafagh.]

Mahin: What is it? What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!

[Shafagh gets up and Mahin sees her. Surprised, Mahin musters a fake smile.]

Bah, bah, Ms. Gooya! We should have come to visit you to repay you for attending Kazem’s funeral and memorial service.

Shafagh: Please, Khanoom Arshadi! I know how busy you must have been, so I thought I would come in person to pay my condolences. Funerals and memorial services are so formal.

Mahin: You have always been so kind to our family!

[Mahin removes her scarf and robe and hands them to Atefeh.]

Atefeh Joon, why didn’t you take good care of Ms. Gooya?

Atefeh: I served her some tea.

Mahin: Just a cup of tea?! The most famous Iranian movie star doesn’t pay us a visit every day! [to Shafagh] Please, sit down. Atefeh Joon, please bring some pastries and fruit.

[Shafagh sits down again.]

Atefeh: Sure!

[Atefeh exits. Mahin moves forward and sits next to Shafagh. Shafagh takes a long look at her.]

Shafagh: You have lost so much weight!

Mahin: Yes. Well, Kazem’s death was really hard on me. I haven’t been able to eat very much over the past few months. I’m sure you know how I feel.

Shafagh: Yes, of course!

[Atefeh returns with a tray of fruit and pastries plates. She serves the plates and offers them the fruit and pastries. Shafagh picks an apple and a pastry. Atefeh sits down, too. All three smile to one another in silence for a while.]

Atefeh: Ms. Gooya was just suggesting to help me pick a few of Dad’s films which could be suitable for my project!

Mahin: That’s fantastic! Ms. Gooya knows your Dad’s work better than anybody else. [to Shafagh] You are so kind!

Shafagh: It’s my pleasure! [silence]

Mahin: Atefeh Joon, don’t you have an appointment at 4:00?

Atefeh: Me?

Mahin: Yes, with Mr. Goudarzi!

Atefeh: [Remembers] Yeah! I do! What time is it now?

Mahin: Three fifteen, but you should hit the road now, otherwise you’ll be stuck in traffic and won’t get there until 6:00.

Atefeh: Should I call a cab?

Mahin: Yes, call.

[Atefeh goes toward the phone and dials.]

Atefeh: Salam Agha. Please send a cab to Ashtari residence. Code 172. I’m going to Niavaran. Thank you!

[Atefeh puts her robe and scarf on.]

I’ll wait for the cab downstairs.

[She steps forward to shake hands with Shafagh, but Shafagh hugs and kisses her.]

Shafagh: Give my regards to Mr. Goudarzi.

Atefeh: Will do! [kisses her mother]. Bye now! [Exits]

[Mahin and Shafagh sit in silence, avoiding looking at each other.]

Mahin: You didn’t eat anything! [She offers her the pastries again.] Would you like some tea?

Shafagh: No, thank you! [silence]

Mahin: This winter the weather didn’t turn cold! It only snowed once!

Shafagh: Yes! They say this is due to global warming.

Mahin: Yes, that’s possible. For some reasons winters never turn cold like they used to.

Shafagh: Well, I guess I better leave. You must be so busy!

Mahin: Where to?! I just got here. Stay for dinner, please. Of course that is if you don’t have a prior engagement. I don’t know when Atefeh will be back. I’m all by myself.

Shafagh: No, I wouldn’t trouble you.

Mahin: No trouble at all. I have some leftover Baghalipolo with lamb from yesterday. I’ll heat it up and make a salad. No trouble at all—of course if you don’t have another appointment.

Shafagh: No. I don’t have another appointment. I happen to love Baghalipolo, too…

Mahin: Yes, I know!

Shafagh: How strange! How do you know that?

Mahin: Kazem told me!

[Shafagh understand the innuendo, but chooses to ignore it]

That’s great! So you will stay?

Shafagh: You are so kind, but I think…

Mahin: Don’t taarof! I’ll be so happy if you stayed.

Shafagh: If you find out why I am here, you might change your mind.

Mahin: I don’t know, but I can guess! That’s why I would really like you to stay. We have a lot to talk about!

Shafagh: That may be true, but I doubt a dinner table would be the right place to say those things!

Mahin: What better place than at a dinner table?! Ms. Gooya, things may not be as bad as you think!

Shafagh: You have no idea what I’m thinking about!

Mahin: [smiles] Not exactly! But like I said, I can guess what a woman and her husband’s mistress would talk about!

Shafagh: I think it’s best if I leave now. If this is where our conversation will start, I better leave as soon as possible. [She rises angrily]

Mahin: [Laughing] Shafagh Jan, don’t get mad!

Shafagh: How can you call me “Shafagh Jan?”

Mahin: I think we should do away with the niceties and talk straight!

Shafagh: Really, Mahin Jan?!! So, let me tell you why I came here! [She takes a copy of Kazem Ashtari’s book of poetry out of her purse.] This is why.

Mahin: [Cool] Did you like his poetry?

Shafagh: How could you touch his poetry?

Mahin: I thought it wasn’t publishable that way! Had you read them before?

Shafagh: Don’t pretend like you don’t know! Of course I had read them before! He had written all those poems for me! [she opens the book and reads] To my wife, Mahin, my only love in life! What dreams!

Mahin: You may be right. It may have been my dream for Kazem to have written those poems for me. But none of that makes any difference now. Because now whoever reads those poems will think or at least wonder that Kazem wrote them for me. Even people who knew about your affair now think that perhaps they were mistaken! Maybe their eyes betrayed them!

Shafagh: You are crazy! Even if you lie to everybody else, you can’t lie to yourself!

Mahin: Don’t you worry about me!

Shafagh: Do you think you are seeking some kind of revenge on us?

Mahin: I am not seeking revenge on anybody! I am past the revenge stage. Maybe ten years ago, or even a year ago, you would have been right, but not now! Revenge is for children and the movies! I was dumb all those years to think about revenge. Right now all I think about is my and Atefeh’s future.

Shafagh: What you have done is unethical and immoral.

Mahin: I think you should be the last person to teach others lessons in ethics and principles!

Shafagh: Why is that? What have I done wrong? Kazem and I loved each other!

Mahin: Really?! How fantastic! Good for the two of you! So you can be happy with the memories of your love.

Shafagh: We didn’t do anything wrong to be embarrassed about! You were the one who wouldn’t let go of him! You were the one who couldn’t accept the truth!

Mahin: I understand your feelings. You feel just like I did a few months ago: you have no recourse! I feel sorry for you! But think of it this way: you had him alive and I have him dead!

Shafagh: It’s not only about the book of poetry. All the things you have done recently. Your interviews, your grandiose claims! All lies! All lies! Kazem had underestimated you! He wouldn’t divorce you, because he felt sorry for you. If only he could see you now!

Mahin: You are so ungrateful!

Shafagh: Ungrateful?!

Mahin: If it weren’t for me, your love for each other wouldn’t have heated up like this. It was my presence which kept your affair alive and well all these years. If I had divorced Kazem and you two were able to marry, there would be no poetry! Somehow I was the cause of these poems. My interviews are my own business. [pause] And by the way, this is so interesting! You are so crafty! I should be the one yelling at you for having taken my husband from me all those years; instead you are yelling at me?! You should be ashamed of yourself, Ms. Shafagh Gooya! Go after your own life! There must be many other married film directors who would want to work with you! Get a life before you get too old to get roles and men to look at you! Your story with Kazem is finished! How old are you? Forty? Forty one? You don’t have a lot of time! It could be too late for you already! Nowadays 60-year-old directors frown upon women older than 30 years of age! I think the reason Kazem had stayed with you was all the years that you two were together! Somehow you were his second wife! Otherwise he always drooled over the younger ones! No one can escape old age, especially those who have nothing but their youth and beauty to present. Before you grow too old you’d better go find yourself something! Speaking charitably, you have another three years max!

Shafagh: [picks up her purse] I think I better leave now.

Mahin: [walks over to her and takes he purse away] What about dinner? You were going to stay for dinner!

Shafagh: I’m too afraid to eat anything here. I’m afraid you might poison me!

Mahin: Don’t worry! I still have things to tell you! I said those things because they had to be said. But I’ve been thinking a lot recently. Whether you like it or not, you and me and Atefeh were the only women in Kazem’s life. You and I are somehow related to one another! I mean I’m sure we have more things in common than in conflict.

Shafagh: [sits quietly and watches Mahin in surprise] What do you mean? I see nothing in common between myself and you!

Mahin: It’s because you are not paying attention! How many years did you waste on Kazem?

Shafagh: I didn’t waste my life with Kazem.

Mahin: Ten, twelve years? When you met him you were at the height of your beauty. You spent the best years of your life by a telephone, waiting for him to call you, telling you when he could be rid of me to come over and spend two hours with you! With fear! You could never go to a restaurant together and have a meal together in peace! Ten, twelve yeas of the best years of your life were spent being a prisoner, a hostage.

Shafagh: Yes, because of you.

Mahin: Did it ever occur to you that I, too, spent the best years of my youth with Kazem? When Atefeh was a child, he would leave me by myself with the kid, and he wouldn’t come home at night.

Shafagh: If Kazem were so bad, why didn’t you leave him?

Mahin: I couldn’t! When I finally wised up to the calamity in my life, it was too late. I was nothing but Mahin Ashtari, Kazem Ashtari’s wife.

Shafagh: Why are you telling me these things now? What would you like me to do?

Mahin: I want you to understand why we have more things in common than in conflict. We were both Kazem’s toys!

Shafagh: I was nobody’s toy!

Mahin: Really? Are you sure?

Shafagh: What do you mean?

Mahin: Look, Shafagh! There is no more Kazem for the two of us to compete over. Forget that even when he did exist, there was no reason for us to compete. Kazem was nothing! You were the one who kept his films on the screen for at least a few weeks. His films were nothing without you. I think you are a grade A actress.

Shafagh: I don’t know what trick you have up your sleeve!

Mahin: As God is my witness, I have no tricks. I’m telling the truth. You are beautiful and a powerful actress. I always felt sad that you had to play in Kazem’s movies.

Shafagh: I loved his films.

Mahin: Really? Did you like playing the same role over and over again, a hundred times? I don’t believe it! You were a stage actress. You were a real actress. None of these cliché roles ever satisfied you. You stayed only because you loved Kazem. I challenge you to watch one of your films with me right now, then look me in the eyes and tell me that you loved that role. I will believe you then.

Shafagh: How would you know that I am a good actress? You have never seen any of my other works but these movies. Mahin, tell me the truth! What are you cooking? First you tell me to stay for dinner. Now you tell me I’m a grade A actress! What do you want?

Mahin: I want you!

Shafagh: What?!

Mahin: I want to work with you. I want you to play in my film.

Shafagh: Your film?! Since when have you become a film director?

Mahin: Is this your last word? Are you turning me down?

Shafagh: Yes! I would never trust you. How would I know you don’t intend to destroy me?

Mahin: [walks toward a bookcase, picks up a script and throws it at Shafagh] Here, read this script. See if you like Raheleh’s role. If you like it, it’s yours!

Shafagh: [curiously looks at the script, picks it up quietly, leafs through, and sits down] Is this that script of Kazem’s which hasn’t become a film yet? You want to direct this?

Mahin: Read it and tell me whether you like Raheleh’s role or not. At your age, to secure the leading role cannot be very easy for you. You will end up acting in third rate series on TV. Think long and hard. How many directors have called you over the past few months?


How many?

Shafagh: [sad] None!

Mahin: How long have you been out of a job?

Shafagh: Over a year.

Mahin: And you’ll be forgotten after a while!

Shafagh: Where will you get the money?

Mahin: Don’t worry! Abbas has read the script and has said that he would invest.

Shafagh: [surprised] Kiarostami?

Mahin: No! Abbas Arjmand.

Shafagh: Aha! Abbas Arjmand. How can I know you’re telling the truth and you are not putting me on?

Mahin: To what end?

Shafagh: So you could have a good laugh at me! To destroy me!

Mahin: What will I gain from your destruction? Think about it! If you and I work together, what would people think? Everybody expects the two of us to be at each other’s throats! But if our pictures are published in papers and magazines, talking about our cooperation, we will have the last laugh! Then they will make up stories about us and gossip about us endlessly. So what? What can be better than this? The gossip will make the movie more relevant!

Shafagh: Yeah. You are right. But do you know how to direct a movie?

Mahin: There’s not much to directing a movie! [pause] You don’t have to answer me right now. Go read the script, then tell me what you think.

Shafagh: Who is Raheleh?

Mahin: She is a runaway girl’s mother.

Shafagh: Is the girl the lead?

Mahin: [smiles] No, Raheleh is!

Shafagh: [smiles] I don’t know what to say! You ambushed me! I expected anything but this!

Mahin: Say nothing now. Go, think, and decide!

Shafagh: Kazem never told me about this script. That’s so strange! [she picks up the script and looks through it] Do you think the story is festival-worthy?

Mahin: I’m sure of it.

Shafagh: It’s about time I do different roles, but what about after this?

Mahin: We’ll deal with that later.

Shafagh: Why didn’t you contact me yourself?

Mahin: I was waiting for you! I knew you’ll show up after the book of poems was published!

Shafagh: Don’t you hate me, really?

Mahin: No. I don’t really hate you.

Shafagh: O.K. I will read the script, but under one condition! I’ll work with you if I get a cut on all the film revenues.

Mahin: This will depend on the producer. We can talk about the contract. Would you like a cup of tea now?

Shafagh: Yes.

[Mahin exits and Shafagh sits down to page through the script, reading parts of it. Mahin enters with a tea tray]

This script is different from his other works.

Mahin: Really? How so?

Shafagh: It has real dialogues. Poor Kazem! This may have been the film he had been wishing for all these years! It’s so obvious he worked really hard on it.

Mahin: Yeah. He worked very hard on it!

[sound of the door opening. Atefeh enters and looks at Mahin and Shafagh in surprise]

Salam Atefeh Jan!

Atefeh: Salam Maman Jan! My appointment with Mr. Goudarzi was for next week. Mr. Goudarzi is in Isfahan right now!

Mahin: Oh no, I am seriously mixed up! Please forgive me sweetheart!

[Atefeh looks at the two of them suspiciously]

It’s O.K. Never mind! Change your clothes and come join us; we will be having dinner soon. Shafagh Joon will be staying for dinner, too!

Atefeh: [surprised] Really?!

Mahin: Yes, sweet Atefeh! Shafagh might be working on our film with us!

Atefeh: Our film?

Shafagh: Yes, your Mom and I might work on the film together.

Atefeh: You and Mom?

Mahin: Yes! Shafagh might play the role of Raheleh! Atefeh will be Assistant Director!

Shafagh: That’s great! I think I will say yes before reading the script!

Mahin: No! Don’t say yes too easily!

[Mahin and Shafagh smile together. Atefeh looks on with surprise and disbelief]

Atefeh: If Dad were alive and saw this, he would never believe it!

Shafagh: I’m sure he would be pleased!

Mahin: For sure!

Shafagh: If you’ll excuse me, I need to powder my nose. [she exits. Mahin and Atefeh are alone in the room]

Atefeh: You sent me all the way to Niavaran on purpose! You knew my appointment with Mr. Goudarzi isn’t until next week! You wanted to be alone with Shafagh!

Mahin: You are being so suspicious!

Atefeh: I’m not suspicious, I know you! Why didn’t you tell me you planned on working with Shafagh?

Mahin: I wasn’t sure she would accept.

Atefeh: The two of you won’t be able to work together! This is sheer lunacy!

Mahin: Why wouldn’t we? This is the best possible publicity for the film, ensuring its success!

Atefeh: Did you tell her you wrote that script?

Mahin: It wasn’t necessary to tell her. You shouldn’t get yourself so worked up! Everything is coming together beautifully! If everything goes well, next February she will receive the Best Actress Award at Fajr Film Festival and our film will be sent to foreign film festivals!

Atefeh: These things aren’t predictable!

Mahin: Shafagh is a good actress; she’s well suited for Raheleh’s role. All the time I was writing that script I was thinking about her. I wrote that script for her. This isn’t a personal thing! You have to focus on the project! What’s right for the project? Shafagh is suitable for that role. I feel close to her, too. I know her style of acting, too. I like her, too! She is a good woman!

Atefeh: Are you kidding?!!

Mahin: Nope! I’m not kidding! Don’t you blurt English words, either!

Atefeh: I never blurt English words, it was by accident!

Mahin: I don’t get it! Why are you so angry? I don’t hold any grudges! Didn’t you say you are spiritual and a feminist? Well, we women have to look out for one another! This world is not worth hating! First part is a feministic approach and the second part is a spiritual approach! I have to go get dinner ready. Don’t dwell on things, relax!

[Mahin hugs Atefeh and kisses her and exits. Atefeh stands there surprised for a while. She approaches the telephone and dials a number]

Atefeh: [whispers] Hello? Hi! Nothing! I have to come there tomorrow. Things have changed here a little! I will explain everything to you later. Bye!

[she hangs up the phone and stands there surprised. Light dies]

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