PostHeaderIcon Tragic Tale Between Two Cultures

Silk Road Rising is a theatre company founded in 2002 in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11 the year before. Over the past 16 years, it has produced around 30 plays with two goals in mind. The first was to challenge the hatred that fueled the attacks by the terrorists and the anti-Muslim backlash that soon followed. And the second was to present dramas that showed the similar feelings and aspirations shared by Middle East and South Asian people and Americans.

Its newest production, “Through the Elevated Line”, a world premiere by playwright Novid Parsi, demonstrates he is an accomplished dramatist. The author of at least three other plays, he had the ingenious idea of adapting+ elements of Tennessee Williams‘ masterpiece, “A Streetcar Named Desire” to tell the tale of an Iranian refugee who comes to live with his sister and her husband in their Chicago home. What should be a happy occasion turns into a horrendous tragedy with contemporary overtones. Parsi has written a play with gripping action and strong portrayals by the actors.

Catherine Dildilian as Soraya Salar Ardebili as Razi

Catherine Dildilian as Soraya with Razi,
Salar Ardebili

Parsi replaces the delicate figure of Blanche DuBois with Razi Gol. His sister is Soraya and her husband is Chuck, a hunky, sexy brute quite reminiscent of the “Streetcar” role immortalized by Marlon Brando. Parsi, perhaps deliberately, gives only Razi a last name. Yet, in pluralistic Chicago, a last name provides initial clues about someone’s ethnic identity and living circumstances.

From the first, Razi’s eyes are taking in this strange, new land and its customs. Baseball, beer, beef and bullying are all essential virtues in middle-class America. This is all anathema to a sensitive, strict Muslim who doesn’t drink, is indifferent to sports and reads the poetry of Hafez IbrahimHe is in flight from Iran for some unknown reason, a displaced person in another land and accepted by neither.

While Soraya wants to help her brother adapt to his new circumstances, the situation is soon poisoned by a deep antagonism between Chuck and Razi. A series of shouting brawls soon develop between Razi and Soraya and Razi and Chuck that leave Razi increasingly isolated while Chuck turns evermore hostile.

Parsi does not simply transpose all of Williams’ plot lines but skillfully supplies a few twists of his own. Razi is hiding some dark secrets, being gay is one, and is not as blameless as Blanche. And, while the climactic scene in “Streetcar” is powered by Stanley Kowalski, Parsi has another character supply the tragic denouement.

Joshua J. Volkers as Chuck Catherine Dildilian as Soraya

Joshua J. Volkers as Chuck and
Catherine Dildilian

Deserved kudos must go to the play’s three lead actors: Salar Ardebili (Razi), Catherine Dildilian (Soraya) and Joshua Volkers (Chuck) who endow the production with strong emotion and believability. Philip Winston (Sean) ) was very effective as Razi’s lover. Director Carin Silkaitis kept the pace taut and the tension unflagging.

While I can only rave at the professional staging in Silk Road’s close quarters, I have two reservations which emerged as I watched but which should not keep readers from seeing the show.  I thought Parsi, during the opening scenes, might have provided a more nuanced, building conflict between Razi and Chuck. Rather than have Razi take an immediate dislike to Chuck, the two men might have compared  Iranian customs and its way of life versus American ways rather than yelling at each other right away. It would have been an enlightening argument for the audience to hear. Secondly, Razi had a limited way of expressing anger. His constant high-pitched wails lacked variation and induced a shortness of breath that rendered some of his dialogue incomprehensible.

“Through the Elevated Line” proves that a 1950s play set in New Orleans can address the same themes in 2018 Chicago.

It plays at Silk Road Rising,  77 West Washington Street, lower level, through Sunday, April 15. Tickets can be purchased online at www.SilkRoadRising.org or by calling 312/857-1234 x201.

 

 

 

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