The Oakland Tribune, June 22, 1999
Paul Sterman

A couple of scrappy Berkeley theatre companies have teamed up for an intriguing production of a famed piece of Iranian literature.

The Darvag Theatre Company and The Shotgun Players offer an imaginative, vivid staging of The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad, Bahram Beyzaie's 1964 play that draws on Persian myths and theatrical styles.

The action is sometimes dense and difficult to follow - and, frankly, it's just not that compelling a story - but the show is nonetheless well-performed and visually stimulating.

The play...explores Sinbad's swashbuckling and spiritual adventures as he travels around the world. Obsessively seeking treasures and truths, he drags his ship's crew through one ordeal after another. The actors - drawn from both theatre companies - deftly mime the actions of sailors, rowing across the sea and hoisting sails on the ship.

The cast gives strong, energetic performances, and the players' theatrical stage movements are consistently creative, as they act out Persian rituals and sometimes break into whimsical dance steps.

Music is also a highlight. Sitting at the side of the stage, Kurosh Taghavi and Nina Sharif play an array of Iranian instruments set out on a carpet before them, such as the setar and the daf (Iranian drums). The sounds they produce are dreamy and provocative.

At two hours, the telling of Sinbad's story feels too long, especially because - judging by a performance this past weekend - a fair number of children are attending the show. It seems unlikely that kids will fully grasp what's going on in this tale, but there's enough exciting stage action to keep them engaged on a basic level.

The Darvag company, founded in 1985, performs several productions a year in Farsi and serves as a cultural cornerstone for the East Bay's large Iranian community.

Darvag used to perform behind a print shop, while the Shotgun Players existed for five years in the basement of a pizza parlor. The two groups now share space at Berkeley's Adeline Street Theatre, currently being renovated.

Although this production - the first joint effort between these two companies - is billed as a bilingual Farsi-English production, the play is actually performed almost entirely in English. It was adapted from Farsi by Darvag's Bella Ramazan-Nia and Zara Houshmand.

The show opens with Sinbad returning to a changed home town after being away on his travels for many years. He's now a member of a traveling theatre group, and he begins re-enacting his voyages with a chorus of actor-sailors.

At the beginning of his adventures, Sinbad is a warrior type, eager to fight enemies. But soon he becomes more interested in a spiritual search.

In one country, he asks the majestic emperor, 'What is happiness?' - and proceeds to spend the rest of his days trying to find the answer.

In the course of his travels, Sinbad captures such supposed spiritual prizes as the Jug of Joy and the Bird of Bliss. But he pays a heavy price for his obsessive quest to discover the meaning of life. Selfish and greedy, he lets nothing stand in the way of his search, and his cruelty and single-mindedness have a profound effect on his sailors.

The voyages are grueling, and the sailors must overcome heat, exhaustion and a plague.

Mansour Taeed is a commanding presence as Sinbad, powerfully conveying the character's relentless ways.

A magician figure (nicely played by Bella Warda) serves as a kind of ringmaster to the proceedings, and she prods at Sinbad's conscience as he reflects on his behavior during the voyages.

There is also a blind jester who functions as a sly, prophet-like figure. Roham Shaikhani is hip and amusing in this role.

Richard Silberg and Ali Dadgar stand out among Sinbad's ship mates; both are intense and physically skilled actors.

Director Jim Cave makes full and effective use of the small circular stage - and other building parts - in this Berkeley church. The colorful Persian costumes are also a plus.

East Bay Express, June 25, 1999
Kerry Reid

...The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad is...problematic in its inertia. Playwright Bahram Beyzaie is one of the most celebrated writers and filmmakers in Iran, and is apparently famous for reimagining classic myths for contemporary audiences. But though this play (a coproduction of Persian company Darvag Theatre and the Shotgun Players, translated and adapted by Zara Houshmand and Bella Warda) contains a lot of metaphysical meandering - the search for individual happiness and its toll on the greater community, greed for spiritual treasure versus material avarice, the inevitability of civil disturbances in a society that divides the haves from the have-nots - the actual voyages themselves take on a dulling sameness over two and a half hours. Darvag artistic director Mansour Taeed has an appealing earnestness as Sinbad, but he never conjures the Ahab-like intensity and charisma necessary for convincing us that he can rouse his disillusioned crew again and again on his fool's errands for alliterative treasures such as the 'bird of bliss' and the 'jug of joy'.

Director Jim Cave excels at creating lovely, delicate stage pictures, and with the help of Housmand's stark but effective circular platform set and rich costumes, the visual imagery often succeeds where the overwritten script fails. (When Sinbad returns to the Chinese court to claim the emperor's daughter as his wife, the parasol draped in black netting under which the monarch sits in absolute stillness immediately conjures the airless atmosphere of grief and loss at the imperial court.) But though Cave's eleven-member cast tries mightily to stay committed and energized over the course of this epic endeavor, the performances take on a monotonous reading. Keith Davis does solid work as the scribe and keeper of the 'official story' of Sinbad, and Bella Warda and Roham Shaikhani are intriguingly mysterious as the magician of death and the blind narrator, but their roles are lost in the miasma of numbing philosophical discourse.