Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Toossi's play, which shines in its illumination of small moments, is a snug fit in the intimate Milton Theatre. The year is 2009, when the Iranian public found hope that the presidential campaign of a reformist candidate might loosen the conservative rule that had come to power in the 1979 revolution. Iranian citizens need to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) before they can leave the country; the teacher, Marjan (Nazanin Nour), has returned to the city of Karaj after nine years in England.
Afsoon Pajoufar's set, a bland institutional space with a table, chairs, and a VCR for watching English-language movies, is the crucible where Marjan sums up the difference between her students' native Farsi and English: "English does not want to be poetry, like Farsi." She explains the idiosyncrasies of the English language as she leads the students through drills and encourages their halting steps into a new manner of speaking.
Each of the four students has a specific reason for wanting to pass the language test: For example, feisty Elham (Tara Grammy) has passed the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and wants to apply to medical school in an English-speaking country, while older Roya (Nina Ameri) wants to join her son and his family in the U.S. The others are Omid (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh), who appreciates Marjan's choice of movies (he specifically likes Julia Roberts), and Goli (Narges Kalogli).
Through the empathetic direction of Knud Adams, the interactions among the actors are fluid, sometimes combative, often humorous, and on occasion heartfelt: Roya keeps trying to reach her son by phone and comes to realize he no longer wants to communicate in any language but English.
English runs through February 26, 2023, at Studio Theatre, Milton Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.
By Sanaz Toossi
Elham: Tara Grammy