Iranian-Canadian actress Tara Grammy portrays three distinctive characters in her one-woman show, co-authored by director Tom Arthur Davis, Mahmoud. We see her as the titular Mahmoud, a Toronto-dwelling, Iranian ex-patriot taxi driver in his middle years; as Emanuelos, a gay Spanish immigrant working happily as a department store cologne salesman; and as Tara, a twelve year old Iranian-Canadian schoolgirl with aspirations to acting. Each character is richly invested with a clutch of mannerisms and a particular voice, stylizations which -while attention-grabbing – come perilously close to stereotypes. There’s something more than just a little cartoonish about Grammy’s turn as the rapid-speaking, gasp emitting young Tara, and her Emanuelos could cause Will & Grace‘s Jack McFarland to blush. There may be a political point being made here about westerners – they’re spoiled, shallow, and self-centered – but it’s a pretty broad one. Mahmoud, by contrast, an immigrant who fled Iran during the cultural revolution, is shown as friendly and engaging, with a moderately pitched voice. Even though he wants to talk relentlessly about how wonderful his former country is, and he’s no slouch when it comes to sounding off at other predatory drivers, he’s the soul of modesty. But it’s a comedy – isn’t it? – so go with it.
We’re in Toronto and it’s 2009. The television news media is focused on the protests and social upheaval surrounding forthcoming presidential elections in Iran. All of the characters are vaguely impacted, even Emanuelos who, it transpires, is dating a nice Iranian man (who just happens to be Mahmoud’s closeted nephew). The stories begin to draw together and broader themes of cultural displacement, immigration, racism, and homophobia come into focus under a wider banner of -’what price personal liberty?’ The writing in this regard is skillful and more subtle than the performances suggest. Time passes, things change. Tara gives up on the notion of ever being seen as anything other than Iranian. Emanuelos becomes engaged to his boyfriend, who returns to his country to “announce their plans.” As things continue to heat up in Tehran, the three characters encounter each other in telling exchanges. Tension mounts until the video-captured shooting of a young Iranian woman attending a rally is broadcast around the world; the Neda story. Various simmering issues in the lives of the three principals abruptly erupt with dramatic consequences. The comic vein the piece began in has been left well and truly behind, and the stereotypes melt into more recognizable flesh and blood individuals.
There has been method in Grammy’s broad impersonations after all. Commencing with almost two-dimensional types, the story closes in on the real individuals as the political, social realities of their lives close in on the characters themselves. The climax has a somewhat melodramatic, symbolic over-reach perhaps, but the story holds together and is deftly brought off. For all her enjoyment of comic overkill, Grammy is an agile and attractive performer. She proves disciplined and well timed, both in conducting the story’s narrative flow, and in her changes from one character to another. The performance is all the more praiseworthy for being enacted on the limited platform stage at Jimmy’s No. 43, with no curtain or props; just fluidly synchronized lighting (Jenna Koenig) and sound effects (Mike Conley). As co-author, director Tom Arthur Davis knows what he is looking for from her, and she delivers here handsomely.
Mahmoud is a winner of a 2012 FringeNYC Overall Excellence Award, and will be part of the Fringe Encore Series. Details about the encore performance are below:
Writer: Tara Grammy and Tom Arthur Davis
Director: Tom Arthur Davis, Consulting Director: Soheil Parsa, Assistant Director: Omar Hady
One Iranian actress, three characters: an Iranian engineer-cum-taxi driver, a fabulously gay Spaniard, and a pre-teen Iranian-Canadian girl. Their stories intertwine in unexpected ways in this personal and hilarious story. Learn more about Iranians, and maybe even yourself.
Huron Club. 9/22 at 8PM; 9/23 at 3PM; 9/25 at 8PM; 9/29 at 5PM; 9/30 at 5PM.
Solo Show Comedy
The FringeNYC Encore Series will present 19 “Best of The Festival” shows in rotating repertory at SoHo Playhouse and The Huron Club (both located at 15 Vandam Street between 6th Avenue & Varick) as well as at The Players Theater (115 MacDougal Street between Bleecker and Houston Streets). Tickets are $18, available at 212-691-1555 or www.SohoPlayhouse.com