Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Tutor
New Conservatory Theatre Center

Debórah Eliezer and Lawrence Radecker
Photo by Lois Tema
"Every society abides by its own hypocrisies," claims Baran (Maya Nazzal), the young woman at the heart of Torange Yeghiazarian's play The Tutor, which recently opened in a world premiere production at New Conservatory Theatre Center, in association with Golden Thread Productions. Baran is a young lesbian living in Iran whose mother arranges a marriage with the much older Kayvon (Lawrence Radecker), an Iranian emigré living in Berkeley.

A fraught love story, yes? But it gets even more fraught when, after leaving Iran for California, Baran falls for Kayvon's best friend, a UC Berkeley mathematics professor, Azar (Debórah Eliezer). But when Kayvon's mother dies while Azar and Baran are trysting, the level of "fraught" gets turned up to 11, especially when the coroner's time of death doesn't agree with the story Baran told Kayvon to cover up her hook-up with Azar.

If this is starting to sound like a murder mystery, it's anything but. Rather, The Tutor explores deeper themes of identity, power and repression–in addition to the twin passions of love and friendship. Set in the Iranian-American community in Berkeley (the Bay Area is home to about a quarter-million Iranians), the play takes place between Yaldā Night 2022 (the Persian festival of the winter solstice) and Nowruz 2023 (the Persian celebration of the arrival of spring). Fittingly, the play sheds an increasing amount of light on Baran's character and the chaos she brings into the lives of Azar and Kayvon.

The Tutor is a fascinating exploration not only of the hypocrisies Baran must embrace to achieve her own interests, but also of the ways in which the Iranian diaspora expresses itself in a foreign country. Through festivals (and the associated feasting) and rituals, Yeghiazarian takes us inside a beautiful culture that has been tainted by years of enmity between our two nations. I knew about Nowruz (having several Persian neighbors), but was intrigued by the many other aspects of Persian culture that were new to me.

Given the timing of the play's action, the uprising that was occurring in Iran also enters into the play, even though the central action is on the love triangle between Baran, Kayvon and Azar. When the Iranian authorities step in to violently bring an end to the "Women-Life-Freedom" revolution, Baran is cut off from her family back in Teheran, cranking up the tension in her relationships with both Kayvon and Azar. "I did what I had to do to survive in this shitty world," Baran screams at her husband and her lover, making perfectly clear that she was always (and only) looking out for herself.

As directed by Sahar Assaf, the cast exhibit an easy chemistry. Intimacy Coordinator Jeunée Simon uses that chemistry skillfully, showing both the reticence Baran has with Kayvon's attempts at romance, and the white-hot (if often hidden) passion between Azar and Baran.

The Walker Theatre in the Round is a perfect venue for this intimate play. No audience member is further than 15 or 20 feet from the performers at any time, and often they are only inches from some seats. This allows the three actors to deliver performances that are more film-like than theatrical, in that we can see every little twitch of an eyelid, the ever-so-slightly turned-down corner of a mouth, or the subtle lifting of a finger. In a larger space, these nuances might be lost, but here it's almost as if we are fellow guests at their festivities–and their most personal moments.

Early in the proceedings, Baran declaims that "As long as we pretend we all believe in the same bullshit, no one will get hurt." Though she seems to be referring to the hypocrisies of the Iranian government, the statement can just as easily apply to the specific actions within The Tutor. As long as the façade each character puts up is unchanged, they can each avoid the pain that will come if those façade are dropped or destroyed. In The Tutor, everyone is hurt to one degree or another.

The Tutor runs through May 12, 2024, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, Walker Theatre in the Round, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $25-$65. For tickets and information, please visit or call 415-861-8972.