Meaningful Lessons in The Old Globe’s Excellent ‘English’

Tara Grammy and Pooya Mohseni (photos courtesy of Rich Soublet II).

Tara Grammy and Pooya Mohseni (photos courtesy of Rich Soublet II).

The course featured in The Old Globe’s excellent production of Sanaz Toossi’s bittersweet Pulitzer-Prize winning comedy, English, is far from a casual one. As the plot progresses, audiences find out about the personal struggles and hopes of every single student and the instructor depicted in the story.

Taking place in 2008 in Karaj, Iran, a professor fluent in Farsi and English, Marjan (Pooya Mohseni), helps adult participants prepare for an English language exam. As Roya (Mary Apick), Goli (Ari Derambakhsh), Elham (Tara Grammy), and Omid (Joe Joseph) meet with her on a weekly basis, they reveal more about their lives and the reasons why they are taking the class.

Toossi’s dialogue is deeply layered with conversations referencing struggles to assimilate versus holding on to heritage and traditions. It is a topic that people from various backgrounds can relate to, and the Iranian-American playwright tackles the subject in ways that feel authentic and genuine.

The writer includes plenty of character development, emotional moments, and humor from the contrasting personalities of the hardworking students. Theatregoers come to like all of them, because of the writing and the acting from the ensemble.

Joe Joseph and Pooya Mohseni.

Joe Joseph and Pooya Mohseni.

Mohseni, Apick, Derambakhsh, Grammy, and Joseph each excel at showcasing the growing humanity of Marjan and her pupils. When watching the production at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, I found myself caring about the fates of every single person, due to the empathetic and comedic performances.

Director, Arya Shahi, stages the weekly discussions in a style that is relatable to anyone involved with classes that emphasize weekly participation. Bonding and conflicts between Marjan and the students might give many audience members flashbacks to their school days, and Shahi also works with dialect coach, Ana Bayat, to sensitively handle the use of accents, as the adults shift back and forth from Farsi (spoken with an American accent) to English (spoken with a Middle Eastern accent).

Sadra Tehrani’s set and Amanda Zieve’s lighting realistically visualize Marjan’s classroom, and Megumi Katayama incorporates almost all English songs into her audio, which sometimes become relevant to the tale.

Mixing powerful topics with wit and pathos, Shahi’s interpretation of English is a memorable theatrical experience at The Old Globe.


[box] Show times are Thursday at 7:00 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm, Tuesday at 7:00 pm, and Wednesday at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. [/box]

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