Salt Lake Acting Company Presents: The Persian Quarter
By Heidi Grieser
Salt Lake City playwright Kathleen Cahill says that after brain surgery in 2005 her playwriting, “actually improved.” Her last two award winning plays demonstrate this fact. Cahill’s new play The Persian Quarter is both a political history and the story of individual women in Iran and America.
The plot weaves together the stories of two women during the Iranian Hostage Crisis with a modern-day story of their daughters who meet by chance. Cahill would like the rest of the story to remain a surprise.
The Persian Quarter is Kathleen Cahill’s second play in a year to make a world premiere at Salt Lake Acting Company. Like it’s predecessor Charm in ‘09, it is the recipient of The Edgerton Foundation’s prestigious 2010 New American Play Award. One of six new plays nationwide chosen each year for the award. Aside from that the two plays have little in common.
Charm is best described as, “a fine champagne; sparkling, bubbly, intoxicating, and effervescent,” by Daisy Blake in her review of the top 10 theater performances of 2010. The Persian Quarter features an American hostage and her Iranian captor.
This new play is researched, but heavily influenced by Kathleen’s memories of living in Iran. “Thirty-something years ago, I was in my early twenties and I traveled overland from England to Iran by bus and train and got a job teaching English. It was like another planet, and they were our big allies back then [in the 1970’s].”
Kathleen insists it wasn’t a brave or dangerous thing to do because, “[Iranians] wanted to be western. If I was waiting in a line and the people heard my American accent they would push me to the front, and my students wore mini-skirts. Back then I would hear stories about what the CIA was doing with the Shah’s secret police, and I didn’t believe it. When I was writing this play I remembered how naive I was back then and so one of the characters is like that.”
The narrator of the play is the Ancient Indian poet, Rumi. One aspect of Iranian culture Cahill remembers fondly is their appreciation for poetry. “In Iran, they name grocery stores after poets. Poetry is a way to say things that are hard to say, things that history and politics can’t say.” While this play is poetic and political, it is ultimately the story of individual women.
Strong female characters run through all of Kathleen’s work, as evidenced in Charm and expected in The Persian Quarter, and this fact makes it no surprise that Cahill herself is a strong woman.
Cahill casually says, “I had brain surgery in ‘2005 and my writing actually got better.” After three successive operations for a subdural hematoma she was unable to write for an entire year. “I couldn’t even talk, the words just wouldn’t be there. It’s been five years and I’m still talking about it because it was such a big deal.”
The head trauma resulted after a cabbage fell out of a cooler and struck her in the head. After recovery Cahill says she realized a significant difference in creative ability, “Now my writing is more interesting and deeper”.
Considering the times we live in, Cahill’s play is extremely relevant. She says, “I wrote a play about poetry, politics, memory and the country of Iran… not because I’m an expert on any of these things… but because poetry and Iran – and our political history with Iran – were/are in the news so much… I felt as if I was having pebbles thrown at my window asking me to wake up and write about it, write about myself, my experience of living in Iran many years ago, Iran’s poetic soul, my own love of poetry – use it all… tell the truth, but as Emily Dickenson says, “tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
“…both a story told on a Persian carpet, and a piece of political history,” The Persian Quarter will run February 2-27 at SLAC 168 West 500 North.
visit saltlakeactingcompany.org for tickets