Autobiography of a Terrorist: A world premiere play by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh. Directed by Evren Odcikin. Golden Thread Productions, Potrero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco, CA. Tickets at www.goldenthread.org. April 14 – May 7, 2017
Autobiography of a Terrorist didactics with humor at Potrero Stage Rating:
A Golden Thread production always has been challenging in concept and challenging to review. Autobiography of a Terrorist now playing at Potrero Stage (formerly The Thick House) maintains those standards. It is author Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s memoir about the trials and tribulations of his preteen years as a Middle-Easterner of Iranian and Jewish descent in Pittsburg specifically during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. Before the 100 minute play ends, the 9-11, 2001 catastrophe takes center stage in respect to its effect on the author.
In this play the actors interact with direct addresses to the audience combined with a play within a play that is not really a play but a “collage of scenes.” Intermingled with the harsh reality of being non-white with an unpronounceable name leads to rejection from his classmates. There are a plethora of farcical scenes that only partially mask the horror any specific scene.
It is fairly well established that a lesson taught with humor is a lesson remembered but the most memorable scene, of which there are many involve the protagonist Said assuming an anglicized name of Allen to “fit in” and then viciously attacking an Iraqi youth. This performance piece is autobiographical and the prime character is Said. In an early scene Said is auditioning for a stage role and in order to get the part he must use a middle-eastern accent, wear an exaggerated “Arab” headdress and dance a ridiculous dance. When he rejects this scenario the director of the play within the play named Cassidy Jamahl Brown (played by the actor Cassidy Brown) takes over and mayhem begins.
It helps if you are partially familiar with the actual events that took place in 1979-1980 or if you have seen the movie “Argo.” However Sayrafiezadeh is a clever writer and he deftly weaves the character of CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt into the storyline with humor that digs deep into the inhumanity of his actions. The restaging of the audition scene and others are gems of writing and directorial genius as each character is forced to play their roles interchangeably. By doing this the themes of human rejection because of a name or ethnicity that could be didactic become palatable and still maintain their cutting edge.
This collage of scenes may initially seem haphazard but they truly kept the audience mesmerized although there were a few outbursts of inappropriate laughter. The cast is first rate with Alan Coyne stealing the early scenes with his mobile body and expressive facial movements. Patricia Austin’s adept changes in character add humor with depth in her rapid change from female to male roles. Damien Seperi playing the role Saied mostly straight gives his role as the author stature especially with his final lines to end the play after taking part in some role playing. It is the real Cassidy Brown playing director Cassidy Jamahl Brown that is the standout performance.
This play as a solid “should see” but the overabundance of farce could be limited to give more weight to the basic theme of the hardships that middle easterners encounter in America. It is as cogent today as when Said Sayrafiezadeh was 10 years old in 1979.
Jenna Apollonia as Stage Manager; Patricia Austin as Actress, Cassidy Brown as Director; Alan Coyne as Actor, Damien Seperi as Said;
Creative Team: Jenna Apollonia (assistant stage manager), Cassie Barnes (lighting designer), Miyuki Bierlein (costume designer), Christian Cagigal (magic consultant), Beckett Finn (technical director), Sara Huddleston (sound designer), Benjamin Shiu (stage manager), Torange Yeghiazarian (producer).
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.
(l-r) Cassidy Brown, Patricia Austin, Alan Coyne and Damien Seperi in Autobiography of a Terrorist at Potrero Stage.