Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Michael Shayan
Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography
Avaaz, now at the Olney Theatre Center in suburban Maryland, is a gem–a son's loving tribute to his mother and an immersion into the culture of an Iranian Jewish woman living in "Tehran-geles," the part of Los Angeles officially known as Westwood and now home to one-tenth of all Iranian immigrants globally.

Beowulf Boritt's lavish scenic design turns the intimate Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab into the living room of Roya (played by her son and the playwright, Michael Shayan), and the audience members are her guests for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. Amith Chandrashaker's lighting design provides an array of both sparkling chandeliers and highlighted spots, and UptownWorks has created an enveloping sound design.

In this small space, opulence is the theme: Roya, dressed in a resplendent gold brocade robe designed by Joshua "Domino" Schwartz, greets her visitors and introduces them to the holiday customs, which represent rebirth during 13 days of celebration. The main one, and the focus of Boritt's exacting detail, is the broad Half Sin table displaying seven foods with symbolic meanings for the incoming year; these include apples, sumac, vinegar, garlic, and sprouted grains.

But Shayan wants to emphasize the story of his mother's bravery and self-determination, how she retained her joy and hard-won optimism in an unfamiliar country, and the way she stood by him in difficult times. Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel helps Shayan demonstrate the resilience of Roya, who left an unhappy marriage and took her young son to the United States in 1983, after the Iranian Revolution ushered in a repressive regime. (Michael identifies as queer, and he credits his mother with some of his fabulous attitudes.)

Olney has announced that this production will tour to Denver and Chicago beginning in October, with additional stops to be announced.

Avaaz runs through April 7, 2024, at Olney Theatre Center, Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit

By Michael Shayan
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Roya: Michael Shayan