Review: ‘Haram! Iran!’ Tackles the Topic of Homosexuality and Islam
By Miles Harter, Contributing Writer, March 14, 2017
Haram! Iran! is an appealing coming of age play about the growing friendship between two apparently very different teenage boys, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhouni. They engage in enlightening and entertaining discussions of The Catcher in the Rye, the poetry of the Persian poet Rumi, Robinson Crusoe, and erotic National Geographic pictures.
Haram! Iran! is also a dark play about the horrors and trepidation caused by extremist Muslim male domination in Mashad, Iran, through the use of Sharia law – “haram” refers to conduct forbidden or proscribed by Islamic law. The drama is based on the true story of the 2005 trial and conviction of two Iranian teenagers for homosexuality. A prevailing theme of the play is that, notwithstanding the fears and injustices that Sharia law might engender, the clerics were only “trying to protect our ways.”
Even though the play relates two compelling stories, the playwright, Jay Paul Deratany, expertly weaves the stories together. The boys meet to study and they become friends. Then an injury to one, and the exposure of some skin, reveals some potential sexual tension. Jealousy on the part of a third boy leads to an accusation of homosexuality and then the trial. A skillful female attorney, Shirin, who has been shattered by the loss of her prestige and position as the result of the 1979 Islamic Revolution—and who is also the close friend of Ayaz’s mother—helps defend the teenagers at the trial. Meanwhile, a recurrent motif of the play is Ayaz’s ongoing and endearing description to Mahmoud of the events from The Catcher in the Rye.
The central characters are Ayaz and Mahmoud, Ayaz’s mother, and the lawyer. Rahul Rai as Mahmoud is ideal as the amiable jock who loves learning from the sensitive and erudite Ayaz, expertly played by Roberto Tolentino. Naama Potok infuses the appropriate amount of pathos into her role as Ayaz’s mother. Sahar Bibiyan intelligently portrays the passionate lawyer struggling for her place in the repressive male-dominated Muslim court hierarchy and arguing for mercy.
Haram! Iran!, presented by Red Spear Productions LLC and Creative Concept Productions, in association with Emerging Artists Theatre, at TADA! Youth Theater, 15 West 28th Street, through Sunday, March 19, 2017. By Jay Paul Deratany. Directed by Rick Leidenfrost-Wilson; scenic design by A J Mattioli; lighting design by Roger Cooper; costumes by Jess Gersz; sound design by Nicholas Kennedy. Cast: Sahar Bibiyan, Thamer Jendoubi, Russell Jordan, Kal Mansoor, Colin Mulligan, Naama Potok, Rahul Rai, and Roberto Tolentino.
Cover: (l. to r.) Roberto Tolentino and Rahul Rai in ‘Haram! Iran!;’ photo: Hershey Miller.