J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Iranian Theater Fest: Silken Veils

Opinions of Iran’s Islamic Revolution differed widely within Darya’s family. Her traditional father embraced it, while she and her mother chafed under the new restrictions for women. As a result, her tumultuous Revolutionary-era childhood has profoundly influenced her perception of relationships. The political becomes the personal in Leila Ghaznavi’s Silken Veils (trailer here), a remarkably artful and cohesive fusion of live theater, puppetry, silhouettes, projected animation, and the poetry of Rumi, which runs this weekend as part of the Brick Theater’s Festival of Iranian Theater.

Veils opens like Plaza Suite, with Darya barricading herself in a room after bolting from her own wedding. She never thought she would marry a Persian man and it hardly looks like she is going to do so now, despite their whirlwind romance. Her memories of life in Iran simply will not rest in peace. In flashbacks, we see her father used to be rational and tolerant. Yet, his increasing zealous embrace of Khomeini essentially cleaves their family apart.

In contrast, her mother’s attitudes towards the Shah reflect a more realpolitik sensibility. If not a supporter per se, she certainly appreciates his modernization efforts and their implications for women. As for Darya’s brother, he never really has an opportunity to develop his own opinions. Instead, he becomes one of the twelve year-old “martyrs” the Revolutionary regime used as human mine-sweepers during the Iran-Iraq War.

Though they loom large in Darya’s psyche, we never see her parents personified directly on-stage. Instead, they are represented as either marionettes or evocative backlist shadows. Frankly, it is quite surprising how much emotion Veils conveys through both techniques. In fact, it is downright heavy to watch Ghaznavi make her mother’s marionette weep on-stage.

While the audience gets a bit of an impressionistic sense of life under the oppressive Revolutionary government, Veils is more successful giving voice to the tragic Iranian soul. Indeed, the great misfortune of Darya’s story is the extent to which politics and ideology infect the family unit. Of course, that is what totalitarian regimes set out to do.

Ghaznavi is a very talented puppeteer and a fairly compelling protagonist (though it is worth noting the play is not autobiographical). Despite stepping at nearly the last minute, Tim Shelton works well with Ghaznavi in their puppetry sequences and projects the right open-faced innocence as the ill-fated younger brother. Yet, perhaps the greatest surprise is just how expressive Warren St. George II and Cady Zuckerman are as Darya’s parents, relying solely on their voices and shadowy body language.

Veils is quite literate in its use of language, seamlessly integrating Rumi’s verse into its text. Hamed Nikpay & Houman Pourmehdi’s distinctive soundtrack further burnishes a rich production. Sort of a multi-media theater version of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Veils is one of the clear highlights of the Iranian Theater Fest. Enthusiastically recommended, it runs again today (3/12) and tomorrow afternoon (3/13) at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn.

(Photo: Lily Gottlieb)

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