Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Wish You Were Here
Also see Zander's recent review of Lizzie
Set designer Omid Akbari has created living room spaces in Karaj, Iran, as scenes slide from one to the next ever so elegantly while the story unfolds. The era depicted in Iran was one of repressive fear in contrast to a far more liberal previous period. Toossi made a wise decision not to proselytize through her dialogue but, rather, to occasionally allude to difficult circumstances and oppressive atmosphere.
At the outset, Salme (Bahar Beihaghi) is about to get married and she sits literally within her enormously puffy white wedding gown, provided by costume designer T.F. Dubois. Nazanin (Anita Abdinezhad) and Rana (Vaneh Assadourian) tend to her hair and more. Nazanin and Rana are very best friends. Zari (Ava Lalezarzadeh) sprawls on a white couch situated to the rear of the stage. She's a demonstratively irreverent soul, while Shideh (Shadee Vossoughi) has her sights set on medical school and a career as a physician. For now, she has the skill to trim toenails.
For a long time, these women exchange words centering on virginity and a certain anatomical body zone which allows for sexual intercourse: use your imagination, please. The slang-filled back-and-forth is delightfully amusing and it enables everyone in the house to sit in on the show-and-tell aspect what appears to be a party. This ends–it's over and done with.
Rana, who is Jewish, is first to go and three others follow as the years roll on from the late 1970s forward. Others become brides and Salme wears a hijab as she prays at length.
Ultimately, Nazanin, who gets married and has children, is the only individual to stay, consistently, in Karaj. Perhaps she is the most grounded. At the very end of the play, Rana, not in touch for more than a decade, calls Nazanin from San Jose, California.
Wish You Were Here shifts from casual, sweet, humorous rendering of relationships amongst a group of women to far more intense and insightful performance. During the initial portion of the play, when they are possibly in their early twenties, they poke fun at one another even if they are obviously close. Will that bond transcend time?
Director Sivan Battat varies the pace with a deft touch. The entertaining and almost delectable opening moments beg for swift movement and Battat accommodates. Later, when feeling and anxiety escalate, there's need for more nuance and space to realize the intensity. In all, Battat's task is to balance and juggle to match the author's purposes. She conducts exemplary versatile actors who absolutely seem to be buddy-like before establishing separate, more mature identities.
In all, Wish You Were Here is a multi-faceted play that spans a wide variety of dispositions. Toossi does not slam home politics but instead says much with fewer but impactful words. For example, Zari's line: "Your place, my place or the bomb shelter."
Toossi's English, the Pulitzer Prize winner which is completing its run at Barrington Stage Company, is fine work but Wish You Were Here is heart-wrenching and at least as enduring.
Finally, seeing the show at a time when violence permeates the Middle East and the region is aflame, well, the implications are inescapable. It isn't possible to walk away from the theater just now without reflecting on and pondering the ramifications of such an absorbing production.
Wish You Were Here runs through October 28, 2023, at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven CT. For tickets and information, please call 203-432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.