Arts & Events

Around & About--Theater: New Play Written & Directed by Bahram Beyzaie

Ken Bullock
Friday October 21, 2016 - 03:35:00 PM

Not long after I started reviewing for the Planet a dozen years ago, I went to a production at Ashby Stage. Shotgun was collaborating with Darvag Theatre of Oakland, an Iranian-American troupe that mostly performs in Farsi. The production was an English translation of 'The Death of Yazdgerd,' the last pre-Islamic Shah of Iran, killed under mysterious circumstances after the battle won by the Arab Muslim invaders. The play was written by Bahram Beyzaie. 

After seeing the show, which centered around the questioning of a miller and his family--Yazgerd's body (present onstage, resting in state, wearing a golden mask) had been found in a mill--and their often contradictory acting out of the events leading to the discovery (something a little like the great story and film of 'Rashomon') or certain "Absurdist" plays)--I reviewed the script as "delicious theater" in the Planet and told others it was the finest play by a living playwright I'd reviewed for any publication.  

Twelve years later, I feel the same. 

A few years ago, I found out that Beyzaie--not only a playwright, but pioneer filmmaker, scholar, teacher who's often credited with the founding of an original Iranian form of theater in the 60s--was teaching at Stanford. I saw a production of his--the first Iranian shadowplay (an ancient Central Asian tradition, probably via China) in centuries--and was able to interview him in the office of Dr. Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies at stanford, and found him a remarkable, urbane man of the theater, brilliant in conversation. Later, I saw his first film, which had been restored in Milan, at the pacific Film archive as part of the SF International Film Festival.  

Beyzaie's still teaching at Stanford. And this weekend and next, the second part of his new play, 'Tarabnameh,' will play at the De Anza College Visual & Performing Arts Center in Cupertino, produced by Iranian Studies at Stanford and directed by Beyzaie and featuring Shabnam Tooneh, an actress well-known to Iranians.  

'Talabnameh' is about a hadji who sets out to sell his servant and buy a slave girl--and what he sees along the way: a poet about to be beheaded, a young lover in search of his abducted beloved, banned troubadours desperate to perform and bring happiness to people ... "the world they see is all topsy-turvy." 

It's based in an old Iranian performance tradition, Takhte-Hozi, with comedy, music, dance and poetry--bringing traditional performance styles into modern theater to give them new life is a Beyzaie specialty. 

It's long--5 1/2 hours, with two intermissions, one for 30 minutes--and in Farsi. Obviously, it's not for everyone, but for the adventurous, for those who are looking for the true contemporary theater of the world--and maybe who are used to watching the performing arts in a language they don't immediately understand--the closeness of the production makes it irresistable. 

Friday, October 21 at 5:30, Saturday and Sunday the 22nd & 23rd at 4, Friday the 28th at 5:30, Sunday the 30th at 4. Information: (650) 725-2787 (10 a.m.-5 p. m.) $52-72, discounts for Stanford students, staff & faculty.