Tuesday, June 25, 2024

If you ask me… “Wish You Were Here”


Yale Repertory Theatre

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

A Stunning “Wish You Were Here” Opens Yale Rep Season
Six Iranian women, lifelong friends, journey through the turbulent times of their country in “Wish You Were Here”, the stunning new play by Sanaz Toossi that has just opened Yale Repertory Theatre’s 58th season. This would be a most auspicious opener for any theatre company.

Set in a variety of living rooms in Karaj, Iran from 1978 to 1991, “Wish You Were Here” covers that chaotic period of the country when the Shah and his monarchy were officially brought down and Khomeini assumed leadership. It was a time of great upheaval and turmoil and the roles and rights of women were constantly shifting. Toossi’s drama is bolstered not only by its excellent company of actors, but by the restraint of her writing. It would have been easy to show only negativity in depicting these lives under hostile rule, but subtlety is Toossi’s strength and her play is more meaningful for it. There are passing references to a university that has closed, a friend who may or may not have committed suicide, but in general, an air of normalcy pervades. The women aren’t just victims and, for some, their love of country remains strong.

All of the performances excel here but special mention must be given Anita Abdinezhad, the rebel of the group, who nonetheless settles for an uneasy conformity. At the play’s dramatic climax, Abdinezhad shares a long phone call with her Jewish girlfriend, Rana (Vaneh Assadourian). Although heartbreaking, it is never played for its theatrics but instead for a careful observation of opportunities missed and of a friendship put to the ultimate test.

The other actors, all terrific, include Baha Beihaghi, Sahar Bibiyan, Shadee Vossoughi (who offers some welcome comic relief) and Ava Lalezarzadeh. This is ensemble acting of the highest order.

The play is briskly paced by gifted director Sivan Battat (it runs 100 minutes without intermission) but the overlapping dialogue, while realistic, can sometimes get lost in the rush. Also, since many years are covered, it was often difficult to catch on to who was who especially since several of the women resemble each other.

Omid Akbari’s scenic design, although obviously a product of time and talent, didn’t quite work for me in depicting the different households especially using the same furnishings in each set. But the costumes (T.F. Dubois), lighting (David Anthony-Ken DeCarolis) and projections (Sam Skynner) cannot be faulted here. All told, this is a wonderful, shattering and empathetic play containing real conflict, real relationships. Miss it at your peril.

“Wish You Were Here” continues at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven, Connecticut through October 28th. For further information, call: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.com.


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