Two unique shows opened in March 2010, in Los Angeles. Both “Haram Iran” by Jay Paul Deratany at Celebration Theatre, and “Salam Shaolm” by Saleem at Greenway Court Theatre, deal with the Middle East, a region of the world that we don’t often see as themes in gay plays. Both are powerful and disturbing in their depiction of the way gay men are treated in Islamic culture.
Both plays address repression and brutality and how difficult it is for a different kind of love to grow in such societies. They also show the world through the eyes of the parents.
In “Haram Iran,” Ayaz (Tamer Aziz) and Mahmoud (Narenda “Andy” Fala) share an innocent love. Mahmoud’s mother, Mrs. Marhoni (Anoush NeVart) was educated in Paris, and returned to Iran in 1979 thinking she would have an equal role in society. She could only read books in English in secret and teach her son about the world. It is deeply moving to realize in court that her testimony is given slight weight compared to a male. Her husband, who we never see, disowns both her and her son. Unfortunately, Ayaz and Mahmoud’s love has a shorter time to grow and ends tragically.
Celebration Theatre needs to be congratulated for taking the serious subject of the recent execution of two 15-year-old boys in Iran. The repressive atmosphere of so much being forbidden (haram) is treated almost humorously at the beginning of the play, however the lack of personal rights and liberties, as well as the claustrophobic world they live in, literally closes in on the audience as well. Michael Matthews’ taut direction adds to the tension.
Saleem, Korken Alexander
photo: Michael Lamont
In “Salam Shalom,” writer Saleem and director Ty Donaldson offer insights into both the viewpoints of a hard line Israeli, Jewish soldier David (Rafek Feldman), and a hard line Palestinian Islamic Malik (Jay Ali), and how nearly impossible it is for them to understand each other. By learning to love each other, the lovers, who met as UCLA students, Habeel (Saleem) and Yaron (Korken Alexander) offer hope to this impasse. While Yaron (and David's) mother Mira (Linda Shayne) have more freedom in Israel, it is still a far cry from Sherman Oaks California. But she loves her son and supports him in his relationship as does Mrs. Marhoni. We also see how hard it is for Abdul Kareem (Avner Garbi), Nabeel’s father to cope with his son’s sexuality, even in a more secular Palestinian society. And we see how strong an emotion love is, even when it is forbidden.
Both plays have strong casts and important themes. They should not be missed.