Generations of International conflict converge in The Perisan Quarter


Photo courtesy of Salt Lake Acting Company

Women are often pushed to the margins of big political issues or presented as innocent victims of them, but the average woman living with these conflicts is pretty passionate about these problems in the country they hail from. Kathleen Cahill, a Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) writer-in-residence, wants to bring such female voices into focus in The Persian Quarter.

“I really try to write roles for women,” Cahill said. “This play sort of united with my wish to write strong roles, complicated interesting roles – not just the standard ones.”

The Persian Quarter, which premiers at SLAC on Feb. 2 and runs through Feb. 27, examines the relationship between two countries from the perspectives of American and Iranian women.

The play takes place during two time periods, 1980 and 2009. It begins on the last day of the Iranian hostage crisis with Shirin, a female Iranian captor, and Anne, one of 52 American hostages taken captive by student revolutionaries. 30 years later, the daughters of these two women meet in a classroom at Colombia University during a lecture made be Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad.

The two stories are bridged through the poetic narrator Rumi. Cahill explains that poetry plays a major role in the everyday lives of Iranians – Moreso that it does in America. Supermarkets named after poets, memos written as poems and the capacities of most people there to recite poetry word for word give the society a more artistic picture. Furthermore, Rumi shares his name with one of Iran’s most notable poets.

“The play has a character named Rumi who is also popular in the United States,” Cahill said. “He speaks of another level that is beyond politics and history where all people are the same.”

The United States’ relationship with Iran has been tense for the last thirty years, but The Persian Quarter, along with a panel discussion related to themes in the play on Feb. 13, try to bring to light what both the U.S. parts are in this always simmering conflict.

“There’s a lot of things that America did in Iran,” Cahill said. “They overthrew the only democratically elected leader, and that’s an under-emphasized story. They’ll learn about our history and understand why things happen the way they do in Iran. People will be surprised.”

The contemporary political aspects of the play are something new to Cahill as a playwright.

“I’ve never taken on politics as a theme,” Cahill said. “It’s interesting because you are talking to people about very big things. I start having conversation about these issues, and it takes me out of my little playwright’s life.”

With all of the patriotism, poetry and people, the transcendence over what separates the two cultures are now brought together through the interactions of these women.

“There’s another way to think about things,” said Cahill. “There’s another way to look at people that is never thought of before. Maybe things that are alien and strange, but they’re people too.”

The show takes place in the Upstairs Theatre at SLAC Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets are between $15 and $37. To find out information about this show, visit SaltLakeActingCompany.org or call 801-363-7522.

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