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Theatre Review (LA): Haram Iran by Paul Deratany at the Celebration Theatre

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Someday we may get some good news out of Iran, but none since the hostages were freed. Now we face the prospect of a nuclear Iran, which could jeopardize the entire Middle East if not the world. All this is done in the name of a distorted sense of religion. Currently they are holding four hikers captive who just happened to stray over the line of the country when they were hiking in the mountains. But two of the most egregious activities of the government are in their treatment of women and in their punishment for suspected homosexuals. Both or either one can be hanged, or worse, stoned to death. One of the most notorious cases was the case involving two fifteen year old boys, Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari who were tried and convicted of being homosexual and then hanged in a public for show and to act as a warning. Jay Paul Deratany has written a very powerful and harrowing play called Haram Iran based on transcripts of the trial of these boys who refused to blame one another and sacrifice their friendship in order to go free. The play is being presented at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood, one of two LGBT in Los Angeles.

In Haram Iran we see a few friends who relate through soccer, and through a thirst for knowledge. It is through soccer that many of the kids find release and hope for the future. Ayaz has no particular ambitions in sports but spends his time reading forbidden English books provided by his mother and a friendly Turk. His friend Mahmoud is much more of an athlete but is torn between his friendship with Ayaz and an extreme fundamentalist soccer friend, Fareed. Ayaz wants to discuss “Holden Caulfield” while Fareed only wants to play soccer and study the Koran. Fareed views the activities of Ayaz as blasphemy and when he catches Ayaz cleaning some wounds on Mahmoud’s back and buttocks delivered by a cruel father, he assumes the worst and reports them to the authorities. What unfolds in this play is their eventual imprisonment, harsh treatment including rape in jail, and finally a totally rigged trial where the guilty plea was inevitable.

Michael Mathews directs with a ferocious energy and gets truly marvelous performances out of his cast. Tamer Aziz plays Ayaz with intelligence and heart. Narenda “Andy” Gala plays his friend Mahmoud with a confused but inquiring attitude. A creepy Michael Tauzin plays Fareed. Sila Agavale, Ayam Samman, and Maz Siam fill out the cast. All the actors were uniformly good especially the boys. Haram is Arabic means “forbidden”. If only it had been forbidden to treat these boys so unfairly and with such hatred. Haram Iran is playing at the Celebration Theatre until April 4th.

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