The Persian Quarter
By Kathleen Cahill
Directed by Alexandra Harbold
Originally produced at Salt Lake Acting Company, Salt Lake City, UT.
February 2, 2011 through February 27, 2011
About the Premiere Production: In Kathleen Cahill’s The Persian Quarter, a diplomatic crisis and a chance encounter trigger revelations of a shared past. The play unfolds on the final day of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980 Tehran with Anne, an American hostage and Shirin, an Iranian revolutionary student who is one of her captors. Thirty years later in New York City, their daughters, Emily and Azadeh, meet accidentally in an empty classroom at Columbia University during the visit of Iranian President Ahmadinejad.
The Persian Quarter presses the question: given the countless fault lines of belief, culture, gender, generation, language, politics, history... how do we even begin to understand each other? The play explores how our identities — by nature or nurture, accident, fate, or will — shape our involvement in our world. We witness not only the confrontation of the women at the play’s core, but also the synchronicity of their hopes for and visions of their respective countries. Through the characters of The Persian Quarter, we experience Iran and America, countries with a troubled, interconnected history, leading us to question what we know of our own history, what we’ve forgotten, and the legacy of personal and political decisions.
Artistic Statement: Producing the World Premiere of Kathleen Cahill’s play reaches to the heart of the Salt Lake Acting Company’s mission as we strive to make our community a vibrant theatrical and artistic place that nurtures the community of writers and artists who live here, ultimately championing their work on a national level. It is who SLAC is and what we do: cultivating the work of living playwrights, assisting them in their development process, ensuring the best and newest work is available for our audiences, contributing to the body of work for the American stage.
SLAC believes in the unique strength of Kathleen Cahill’s voice and the relevance of her work in and beyond Utah. Her plays transport our audience into other worlds and in The Persian Quarter, Ms. Cahill creates an alchemical mix of fantasy and political history in which allegiances collide with the mystical and poetic. This is also a play about current political events. Its subject matter could hardly be more timely or relevant, and yet — and this is what compels us — it goes both deeper and wider into the subject than anything available in the news or on the internet. The play fulfills what we believe is one of the missions of theatre: to present new, unexpected, and exhilarating images and ideas in a dramatic context. Grim realities co-exist with the transcendent ecstasy of the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, whose poems encircle the political crises of the play. Rumi is in fact introduced as our guide through The Persian Quarter; he and his poems are riddles, weaving us into the story. Because he is simultaneously ancient and immediately connected to the audience, he shifts our expectation of time within the play. Mothers become their daughters; a grandson becomes his own grandfather and back again; thirty years pass in a moment.
As with CHARM, whose world premiere production SLAC staged in Spring 2010, The Persian Quarter benefits from Ms. Cahill’s masterful storytelling, which is full of unexpected shocks of humor and transcends any constraints of naturalism. She grants us the privilege and disorientation of being a foreigner, in history and in place, heightening our experience and altering our perspective. Her curiosity about history and, in the case of The Persian Quarter, Iran, is contagious, and one of the great gifts of her work. - From Keven Myhre and Cynthia Fleming, Executive Producers
What this grant will allow us to do: Because The Persian Quarter poses real questions rather than allowing either point of view to diminish into rhetoric, capturing the subtleties of the arguments is essential and takes time. The extended rehearsal process allowed for by the Edgerton Foundation grant is invaluable. The Persian Quarter requires that the actors make a connection with both the political and the spiritual worlds within the play: to be conversant with Iranian culture and history and the political interconnection of Iran and America, the poems of Rumi and Emily Dickinson, and the interplay of Christian, Islamic and Sufi beliefs. For the actors playing Shirin/Azadeh and Rumi/the Iranian Pool Attendant, it requires fluency with the Farsi dialect. All of the actors double as two characters within the play; three of them have the challenge of creating generations of characters who are at once distinct and bound to one another. Grasping the history and context of the play and investing attention to these details is critical to the production. This grant from the Edgerton Foundation affords vital additional time for the artistic company to fully translate research into performance and to create a world of the play that is both real and poetic. - From Keven Myhre and Cynthia Fleming, Executive Producers
Director: Alexandra Harbold
Set Design: Keven Myhre
Lighting Design: Jesse Portillo
Sound Design: Cynthia Kehr Rees
Costume Design: Brenda Van der Wiel
Dialect Coach: Sandra Shotwell
Cast: Ann/Emily : Nell Gwynn
Shirin/Azadeh : Deena Marie Manzanares
Rumi/Iranian Pool Attendant : Shane Mozaffari
Mike/Kermit Roosevelt : Josh Thoemke
Salt Lake Acting Company: ‘The Persian Quarter’
Salt Lake City Weekly, February 10, 2011
Review: ‘The Persian Quarter’ weaves history and culture with Persian magic
The Salt Lake Tribune, February 5, 2011