Theater Review: AVAAZ (South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa)

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by William C. on May 14, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

A TRAILBLAZING VOICE EMERGES

It is tough to capture what Avaaz is in writing. On the surface, it is a one-person play in which author Michael Shayan plays his mother, Roya, a Jewish-Iranian woman who is quite a character. The narrative journey can be traced back to Roya’s father, Shayan’s grandfather, who was jailed for being a political dissident against an oppressive regime. Uncertain of her fate — and since most political prisoners were tortured, executed, and buried in unmarked graves — Roya immigrated to the United States to seek a bigger future and find her American dream.

Recollections of joy, fear, abuse, terror, and even homoerotic attractions are shared by introducing the items on the HaftSin table, the celebration altar of Nowruz, the Iranian new year: The Seeb (apple) represents beauty; Serkeh (vinegar)¬†represents patience; etc. Shayan uses these to build a memory palace, which helps him place, remember and channel his mother’s stories, which lead to our playwright’s birth, and end in the present day when Michael and Roya fight on Nowruz, an argument which presumably sparked the idea of the play.

In many ways, the framework here — unpacking the life experiences of an immigrant beautician working in a tiny Westwood hair salon called “Beauty Palace” — bears resemblance to to Everything Everywhere All at Once. Unlike that Oscar-winning film, this remembrance is more sincere and heartbreaking, as the memories are laid bare without the sugaring effect of sci-fi magic realism. Emotionally, I was entirely enthralled by Michael’s delivery. As a storyteller and actor, he is very, very good — charismatic with a good sense of comedic timing. The recounting of his grandfather’s death haunts me still. The stories are compelling and filled with the flavors of life.

Director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel has assembled a great design team. Beowulf Boritt‘s scenic design is spectacular, with three curved mirrors pairing perfectly with Yee Eun Nam‘s projections. Notably, the night sky scene of Tehran was visually stunning. Amith Chandrashaker‘s lights add much grandeur — nine chandeliers will make any stage look like a fancy party.

Michael closed the performance by mentioning this production is the first Iranian play produced in Southern California. In the heart of Orange County, South Coast Repertory is not what I would expect such a play to make its first landing. Even more curious is that it is playing alongside Coleman ’72, another immigrant memory play. Having seen both plays, I am impressed by the programming choice at SCR. They are both incredibly fresh young voices with much love for their family and community. After all, theater is one of the greatest vehicles to tell your family and community how much you love them. Take them to see this play. You will not be disappointed.

photos by Jenny Graham/SCR

Avaaz
part of the Pacific Playwrights Festival
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa
ends on May 27th, 2023
for tickets ($27-$98), call 714.708.5555 or visit SCR

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