by Lynn on March 28, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Factory Studio Theater, Toronto, Ont., Brenley Charkow

Written by Hengameh E. Rice

Directed by Brenley Charkow

Set by Sim Suzer

Costumes by Niloufar Ziaee

Lighting by Siobhan Sleath

Sound by Heidi Chan

Cast: Mahsa Ershadifar

Omar Alex Khan

Sama Mousavi

Fuad Ahmed

Anahita’s Republic sheds light on the plight of women in Iran and the political implications if a woman speaks up. The production is a noble effort.

Note: Hengameh E. Rice, noted as the playwright, is in fact a writing team: Hengameh born in Iran and Rice born in Edmonton, Alberta. This seems to be the only play the duo has written. Finding out any further information on the writers individually is also a mystery.

The Story. From the press information: “(set in Tehran) Anahita is a woman who refuses to wear the hijab and rules her own republic where she can be free to live, dress and speak as she pleases. To deal with the world outside of her compound, she controls the family business and the life of her brother Cyrus, whose freedom and happiness are sacrificed for her dreams. One night, on the eve of an important secret meeting between leaders of the women’s movement, a young woman in a chador (it’s a piece of clothing. It is for Muslim women. In Iran, women wear a chador in public. The Chador covers the body except the face) comes to Anahita’s compound, carrying explosive secrets that might destroy everything Anahita has tried to build.”

Anahita has not stepped foot out of her compound for years. She runs the family business totally within the compound walls. She has everything she needs. She can swim in her pool; wear whatever clothes she wants; can smoke a cigarette if she feels like it, all without prying eyes or being reprimanded by the ruling regime.

Cyrus, her brother, is a member of parliament and also is involved with the company. As a man, he can go where he pleases. He can tell Anahita about the outside world so she is informed.

The Production. Sim Suzer has designed one of the most beautiful sets I have ever seen in the Factory Studio Theatre, or in any theatre come to think about it. Flowers and flowering potted plants are everywhere. Up at the back of the space is Anahita’s well appointed office with a rich-looking desk, an ornate backdrop, memorabilia on the walls, shelves etc. Down some steps from the office is the garden, lined with flowers, plants some outdoor furniture. The whole design suggests opulence, calm and exquisite taste, both the character’s and the designer’s.

When the production begins, there is the sound of commotion, upheaval of people shouting. Upstage is the back of a woman taking off her hijab. She slowly turns to look at a woman downstage. While this might set up the initial moment when Anahita (Sama Mousavi) removed her hijab in public, we can’t be sure, since we do not know who these characters are. During the play, there are references to another woman who challenged the Iranian regime, hence the confusion of who is this in the first scene? Who is the woman downstage? I think this initial scene should be rethought for clarity.  

Anahita makes her first proper entrance having just come from her swimming pool. Her brother Cyrus (Fuad Ahmed) is dressed stylishly in well-tailored casual clothes—kudos to Niloufar Ziaee for her beautiful costumes-again, they suggest wealth, success and taste. Cyrus wants to discuss an important meeting that they will host. Cyrus has worked hard to organize it. His position in parliament has garnered him power to get things done and organize things his sister can’t because of her ‘confinement’ in the compound.

They are expecting Masood (Omar Alex Khan) one of their suppliers, to bring them the latest shipment. He doesn’t arrive. In his place is Omid (Mahsa Ershadifar), Masood’s daughter. She says he is ill and she has come in his place. Both Cyrus and Anahita are suspicious. Omid wears the chador. She holds it tightly around her. Is she hiding something?

We learn that years earlier Omid’s mother was politically active. Was she the person we saw take off the hijab at the beginning of the production? Was it Anahita? As I said, it’s a scene that should be rethought for clarity.

Almost at the end of the play the playwrights take a sharp turn and the play swerves away from Anahita to her brother without a hint or buildup. And while the press information has this line “she controls the family business and the life of her brother Cyrus, whose freedom and happiness are sacrificed for her dreams” the play does not support that claim. I am often amused by what the press information states the play is about, and what the play as written is actually is about. We are given heaps of new information about Cyrus, his life and his concerns at the end of the play. But this comes from nowhere and should be reexamined as well, again for clarity. The curve results in a separate play it seems.

The cast is valiant under Brenley Charkow’s direction but I found her staging ‘busy.’ Not every character needs to move on every line. Occasionally stillness is profound.

Comment. With Anahita’s Republic playwrights Hengameh E. Rice provide a fascinating look into the rigid world in which the women of Iran live. Even one as financially privileged as Anahita, must isolate in her compound if she wants to live, dress and smoke as she likes, to be safe. Omid, on the other hand, is beholding to her father and his dictates as to whom she can marry. Masood has arranged a marriage for Omid. She does not want to marry this man for various reasons. Her father is adamant. Why she has come to Anahita’s compound is one of her secrets. The playwrights do have me wondering how Omid was able to travel by herself (albeit at night). And that rigidity concerning the lack of women’s right is far reaching. Years before Omid’s mother dared to challenge that rigidity with dire consequences. Those consequences had no effect on Masood’s insistence that he could decide Omid’s life for her.

In the case of Anahita and her brother, there is a more relaxed, contemporary, worldy attitude. Anahita runs the business, very successfully it seems.  

Bustle & Beast Present:

Plays until April 2, 2023.

Running time: 90 minutes.

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1 emm April 1, 2023 at 9:22 pm

The piece does not represent anything but the views of the regime and its propaganda. Reduces women struggle to merely Hejab, being able to drink and wear revealing clothing for women!!! This is a sham, unfortunately this is what the propaganda of the regime is trying to feed its inactive population in Iran and also feed the uninformed westerners. The women movement in Iran involved issues of non violence, children rights, self determination of women over their life and body. The depth of the issues raised by people of Iran and its feminist base included a much more complex issues that was expressed in this piece.

Western audience, need to be also aware that unfortunately the Iranian Regime propaganda machine is present everywhere, please inform yourself by referring to Human Rights independent organizations outside of Iran who provide independent reports of the process of misinformation and propaganda against the true heroes of the uprising.