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Sussan Deyhim’s Gripping ‘House is Black’

special events at The Wallis

by Ernest Kearney  —  That Sussan Deyhim’s The House is Black Media Project had such a limited engagement at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is unfortunate.

Deyhim’s homage to the feminist movement in her native Iran and Forough Farrokhzad—one of that country’s “most influential feminist poets and filmmakers of the 20th century”—reminds us that underneath the atavistic fundamentalism of their ruling government, lies an ancient and noble culture of 81 million souls who have been stifled but not extinguished.

A brief history of feminism in Iran opens the piece, and we hear names unfamiliar to most Westerners: Tahireh, ‘Taj Saltaneh, Sediqeh Dowlatabadi; women who fought for the rights of Iranian women in their day.

This brings us up to Farrokhzad, born in 1935 to a military family. Her life begins as one overshadowed by her father’s authority as well as her society’s.  A marriage at sixteen ends after four years and Farrokhzad’s poetry goes on to find publication but encounters great disapproval for her frank treatment of sexuality.

Farrokhzad would continue to write and campaign for women’s rights, and in 1962 she would make a documentary about leprosy and those affected by it in Iran.

Acknowledged as contributing to the “New Wave” in Iranian cinema, it is the title of that documentary, The House is Black that Deyhim uses for her lyrical bio-piece to reflect the status of women in patriarchal Iran as beings polluted by the disease of their gender.

Deyhim and co-director Robert Egan have constructed a work of light and shadow, music and poetry; a work where the spoken word is layered with a diaphanous sheen of Persian lettering, and where reality overlaps presentation with Deyhim’s performance counterpointed by film clips and interviews with her subject including one by Bernardo Bertolucci. This serves to establish a realm between the artist and her pain, and between Farrokhzad’s art and her reality.

Here her poetry, evocative of Sylvia Plath with hints of haiku, is permitted a pristine platform where her verse gains in intensity:

 

I speak out of the deep of night
out of the deep of darkness
and out of the deep of night I speak.

If you come to my house, friend,
bring me a lamp and a window I can look through
at the crowd in the happy alley.

The Gift

Deyhim’s voice adds to that intensity as well: deep and rich, it rumbles over the audience like thunder from a nearing storm.

On February 13, 1967, Farrokhzad swerved the jeep she was driving to avoid hitting a school bus, crashing into a wall.  She died on route to the hospital.  She was 32.

Banned after the Islamic Revolution by the Ayatollah Khomeini, Farrokhzad’s poems were forbidden-reading in the country she loved.  The ban ended with Khomeini’s death in 1989, and her works, considered among the best of modern Persian poetry, have returned to inspire the struggle of Iranian women today.

Iran’s most acclaimed living poet, Mohammad Reza Shafiei Kadkani, has said of her: “She had no masks, that’s why today we still read her, and in future we will read her, too.”

 

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New Yorker’s will have an opportunity experience The House Is Black Media Project  March 10, 2018 at 7 p.m. at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. For Information and Tickets Click HERE.

The House is Black’s Los Angeles limited event ran February 1 – 3

Created & Performed by Sussan Deyhim

Co-Directed by Robert Egan

Co-Composed by Richard Horowitz

Executive Producer: Nina Ansary

Venue: Bram Goldsmith Theater

 

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Wallis will be offering other limited run productions. Here’s a sampling:

 Great Expectations, Charles Dickens’ bildungsroman of six main and thirty-three secondary characters will be presented as a one-man show performed by David Mynne on February 8th thru the 11th at 7:30 p.m.

Music Foundation-600

The ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop will be presenting:

 

The Bully Problem, depicting the ageless struggle of young nerds against schoolyard bullies with book, music and lyrics by Michael Gordon Shapiro on February 7th at 7:30 p.m.

 

Click HERE for Additional Information.

 

Tenn, a musical based on the youthful wanderings of Tennessee Williams with book, music and lyrics by Julian Hornik on February 8th at 7:30 p.m.

 

An Evening with Stephen Schwartz, who has provided music or lyrics for Wicked, Godspell, Pippin and numerous Disney animated films will be on stage February 9th at 7:30 p.m.

ASCAP-Foundation

The acclaimed Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet  with pianist with Stephen Hough  will perform in the Wallis’ Bram Goldman Theater on February 10th.

 

And Saffron Burrows will appear in Jackie Unveiled, playwright Tom Dugan’s one-woman show based on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis February 22nd thru March 11th.

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For ticket information as well as other up-coming productions please click HERE to access the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts website.

Still, I regret there wasn’t more opportunity for L.A. audiences to see Deyhim’s The House is Black Media Project and trust it will return  sooner than later for a much longer run.

Other than its merits as a piece of great beauty and stirring poetry it also served as a much needed and pungent reminder to our own nation.  A reminder of how easily rights and liberties can be swept away when a conservative dictatorship deludes its population with hatred and lies, while claiming that what they are doing will “Make Iran Great Again.”


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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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