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What is the play English all about?
At its core, English is about humanization. The play follows four Iranian students as they take an advanced English language class in preparation for the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foregin Language, but it’s so much more than that. As an English speaker in the US you are fortunate enough to be understood almost all of the time – as a language learner that isn’t always true, and not being understood can serve as a barrier to your humanization. This play is an open door through that barrier.
What attracted you to this project?
I’m a first-generation Iranian-American. I visit Iran most years, and grew up speaking Farsi and English pretty interchangeably around the house. These characters are my family, my cousins, my loved ones, and so I feel a natural draw to help tell their stories. But even beyond that, I love to work on plays that use language not just as a means of communication, but a storytelling tool. Sanaz Toossi uses language to help us understand a reality that we may have never lived, people that we may not ever know or understand with such a generous and caring hand, and I’m so honored to be a part of that process.
What surprised you most about the play when you first read it?
Usually, when I sit down to read a play about Iran it’s about terrorists. Or religious trauma. Or the oppression of women. Or war. Not that these aren’t worthwhile topics to write about, but as an Iranian person I walk around knowing that is how the world sees me and where I’m from. As a theatre maker, I know how deeply plays inform our understanding of other people, other cultures, so it gives me so much hope and joy that this play is out there amidst all the war and trauma and hurt.
What do you hope the SpeakEasy audiences will take away when seeing it?
I hate to impose anything onto anyone, but I do hope that each audience member can find a moment to connect with each character. Zooming out, I hope that this play is just one piece of art among many that helps shift the way that Americans see Iran and Iranian people. And selfishly, I hope the audience laughs.