SALT LAKE CITY — Temptations are high to leave my review with only the title to stand on its own. Last season’s Charm easily topped my list of new plays produced in Utah, and while Kathleen Cahill’s The Persian Quarter doesn’t quite match the beauty I saw in Charm it is a powerful play rooted with strong women and framed in simple poetry.
The meat of the show is held in two scenes—one in each act. The first takes place on the last day of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980 Tehran. It’s a conversation between Anne (played by Nell Gwynn), an American hostage, and Shirin (played by Deena Marie Manzanares), an Iranian revolutionary student who is one of her captors. The second takes place between their daughters thirty years later in New York City. Emily and Azadeh (Gwynn and Manzanares) accidentally meet in a classroom during the visit of Iranian President Ahmadinejad.
The beauty of the show lies in its structure. Cahill beautifully frames the story with small, expository scenes that invoke much more than strictly the who/what/where of the story. These weave the ideas with images, and movement from both Iran and the US, hinting at an experience just a little larger than what we see on the stage.
This isn’t an American play. It’s not an Iranian one either. I like to think Cahill has brought together both worlds in an attempt to bridge—if for just one evening—two lines of thought, two ways of thinking and understanding the world.
Director Alexandra Harbold has done a wonderful job bringing respect and exploration to Cahill’s text. It’s evident in design, staging and particularly in how each scene develops. Gwynn and Manzanares approach their respective roles with an incredibly amount of honesty. The ticket is well worth its price just to watch these two actors. There is depth; there is shape; there is a journey for the audience to take. As easy as it was to connect with our American hostage, Manzanares bridges that social chasm and provided a healthy dose of introspection on this audience member.
The only disappointment of the evening lies in the opening scene between Gwynn and Thoemke. Both actors felt fairly disconnected from the text and it took a good while before their chemistry really started to take root and move forward. The rest of the evening was incredibly strong; I only wish it had started out that way.
Yes, see this show. In fact, I’d make that a standard decision for any Cahill text. Thanks SLAC for supporting great new works in Salt Lake City.