Oakland Tribune, June 22, 1999
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
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
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.
Bay Express, June 25, 1999
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.