The Veil by Shahin Sayadi

Dates and Venue 24 September – 3 October 2009, 8pm (4pm on Sat & 2pm on Sun) | Presentation House Theatre, North Vancouver

Director Shahin Sayadi Managing Director Maggie Stewart Costume Design D'Arcy Morris Poultney Lighting Design Michael Mader Tour Coordinator Kristi Anderson

Reviewer John Jane

On the day following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's address to an emptied U.N. General Assembly with yet another inflammatory speech, Iranian-born playwright Shahin Sayadi brought his chef d'oeuvre to North Vancouver's Presentation House Theatre.

Adapted from Masoud Behnoud's epic novel, The Veil is an exquisitely presented, intricate story that chronicles the turbulent life of a fictional Persian princess. Khanoom begins her story in a touching conversation with her teenage grand-daughter Nanaz during the Iran-Iraq war.

Nanaz is angry and confused over being displaced from the relative safety of her Los Angeles home and finding herself in a Tehran bunker and her mother in prison. But as the older woman recounts her fascinating story of her life amid the tumult of twentieth century Iran and Europe, she gradually comes to understand why her family had to return to their trouble-torn homeland.

Khanoom's tale travels back to a harem in Iran roughly a hundred years from the present. Having been raised by her mother with the help of a eunuch servant (Martin Burt) and a beloved, contumacious aunt Nezhat, she never developed any mutual affection with her father. Her chief regrets are her two lamentable marriages; the first in which she was denied by her husband and the second in which her husband was tragically denied by her.

The Veil's twenty characters are played by only six actors with some taking on up to five roles. The part of the central character is shared by Valerie Buhagiar who portrays the elder Khanoom and also takes on the responsibility as the play's narrator with Nadiya Chettiar playing the young Khanoom as well as granddaughter, Nanaz. Both these actors have performed their roles in several productions including one in Iran. The pair do a fine job in this production, particularly Chettiar who separates her two characters with subtle nuances.

Genevieve Steele, a non-Iranian who plays three different Iranian women surely deserves her share of kudos. Ari Millen who plays ALL the 'bad guys' and Sarah Kitz in multiple roles, round out a strong ensemble cast.

A surreal backstage set essentially consists of hanging bolts of long white fabric serves as portals and passages as well as picking up projected images that mark the scenes, transporting the audience inside mosques and the mountains of Iran.

Condensing a saga that spans several decades and touches on domestic violence, homosexuality, the Iranian revolution, the overthrow of the Shah and the European war into a ninety minute pièce de théâtre whilst maintaining comprehensible continuity requires considerable craft. Alas, while the play is well paced and the visuals are stunningly powerful, The Veil suffers from moving too hastily through many short scenes and thus loses some of its cohesion..

© 2009 John Jane