Torange Yeghiazarian’s new play, 444 DAYS will premiere at Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco this October. Laine Forman uses the occasion to speak with Torange about her experience of moving to the US from Iran and the impetus for the play.
LF: What inspired you to write 444 DAYS? What was your experience of the Iranian hostage crisis?
TY: I was 14 when the hostage-taking at the US embassy in Tehran took place. The news on American media during that time and the images broadcast nightly of the demonstrators and the blindfolded hostages has been etched on my brain forever. In 2006, I took a playwriting workshop with Motti Lerner where he stressed the need to create situations where the characters become progressively more twisted. To me, the most twisted relationship was a hostage situation and I created a story where an ex-hostage and ex-hostage taker meet 25 years later. I knew there were women among the hostage-takers and I was curious about what that relationship might be like.
Then in 2010 I lived in Tehran for six months. During this time, I was really struck by the defiance of Iranian women. Their accomplishments, their presence in all social arenas and the strength they show in the face of significant daily challenges. The character of Laleh is very much informed by the experience of those six months. Her impassiveness is rooted in a survival strategy practiced daily in the streets of Tehran.
LF: Your play blends both historical facts along with fictional characters. What kind of research did you do for the play? What informed your choices?
TY: First I figured out the story I wanted to tell then I read accounts by the hostages and finally, I came across a memoir by one of the hostage-takers which really informed my understanding of the daily life inside the embassy complex. I also had to find a medical condition that fit the conflict I had in mind. That took a lot of research and consultation with a physician.
The basic story I had in mind was about two characters bound together by a child, representing a moment of passion between them, which they forever deny because of political conflict and nationalist concerns. To me, the current political situation in Iran is like a wound that has gangrened. I wanted a medical condition that would undeniably expose the two characters’ past. I guess you put all of this together in a bowl and you end up with 444 DAYS.
LF: The two main characters are an ex-hostage and an ex- hostage taker who have fallen in love. What was your choice in creating this relationship?
TY: I’m drawn to impossible love affairs. The obstacles individuals must overcome to connect as human beings are hugely amplified when they are political enemies. I love focusing on the ways global situations actually impact our individual daily life. A love affair is a great way of personalizing the impact of war and political stalemate.
My own life changed completely as a result of a political conflict, the revolution in Iran. I was forced to live away from my homeland. I witnessed thousands of others dealing with the same situation. And those who stayed in Iran, the way their life was transformed as a result of the Islamization that took place in the years after the revolution. To me, those who say politics is somebody else’ issue, are either blind or in denial. I feel like politics impacts every moment of my life.
LF: What are some of the challenges writing about a historical moment especially when dealing with a subject many of your audiences will have lived through? Why is this play important now? What do you hope audiences will take away?
TY: I want the audience to focus on the story being told on stage. I don’t want them to constantly be wondering if so and so REALLY did something or not? So the challenge becomes balancing fact with fiction. How do I make characters inspired by real people and events inspired by real events fictional enough so that the audience pays attention to and connects with what they are watching on stage? It’s a constant back and forth. At the same time, there are benefits to using real events when the audience already has a sense of that history, the conflict and the weight of the circumstances being presented on stage.
LF: As the Artistic Director, was it intentional that your season has two female playwrights? How were these plays selected, and why?
You’re asking this because of the recent attention to gender inequity in theatre, right? At Golden Thread we have historically hired and produced more women than men. It’s not intentional; it just so happens that the best artists and playwrights tend to be women today. And we’re not afraid of showing that. At the same time, I do look at the balance of a season, in terms of gender, ethnicity, dramatic content. But when you only produce two full-length plays per year, you have little leeway in offering variety.
444 Days will run October 17 to November 3, 2013 at Z Below, 470 Florida St., San Francisco, CA. 94110
© 2013 Golden Thread Productions
By Torange Yeghiazarian | Directed by Bella Warda
A tangled web of love, betrayal and espionage
Can anything survive decades of secrecy, broken promises, and political intrigue? Laleh, an Iranian revolutionary, and Henry, a diplomatic attaché, meet for the first time in 25 years as Laleh’s daughter lies in a coma. The last time they spoke was when she held him hostage for 444 days at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran along with 52 other Americans. International espionage and family secrets mesh in unexpected ways in this world premiere play by Golden Thread’s award-winning artistic director.