Chronicling a Love Affair with Canadian Theatre

wish you were here

Wish You Were Here At Yale Rep

Sanaz Toossi’s Wish You Were Here, now playing at New Haven’s Yale Rep, is a well-intentioned disappointment.

Wish You Were Here charts the gradually unravelling relationships among a tight-knit group of five female friends in Karaj, Iran, during a tumultuous period. The decade or so between 1978 and 1991 saw the exit of the Shah, the rise of Khomeini, the Iran-Iraq war, and the increasing oppression of women by a theocratic state.

But life goes on. Wish You Were Here concerns itself more with the quotidian concerns of these women, their friendships, their marriages, their idiosyncrasies, and their squabbles, than it does with the world outside. There is a fair amount of chit chat about sex, vaginas, and personal hygiene, but while the events of the outside world are name checked the inner lives of the characters remain oddly inaccessible.

I suspect that an Iranian audience, one that had lived through the upheaval of the period, would be able to fill in the emotional blanks that eluded me.

Only in the play’s final moments does something akin to real emotion spring forth. It’s too bad because Toossi is capable of some fine writing that touches on the poetic.

One character, speaking of her daughter, says, “She will never know how fast this earth can spin underneath you, how one day you can have a home, and the next, as you are hurtling through the air, you will have to vanquish home.” The play could have done with more of that.

The director, Sivan Battat, has gone to considerable effort to assemble a good cast that has impeccable Iranian credentials. (Casting is credited to the firm of Calleri Jensen Davis.) Even the understudies in Wish You Were Here have roots in Iran.

These days that level of cultural specificity is as unusual as it is welcome. The result was to give Wish You Were Here a real sense of place.

I wish Battat had lavished the same attention to detail on the performances. Too often I got the sense that there was little listening going on during the constant chatter and perhaps more time could have been spent in rehearsal exploring the crushing effects of the insanely patriarchal regime on the protagonists.

The video projections of the women at leisure in happier times that filled the time taken up with scene changes added little.

Omid Akbari has contributed a handsome set that features a revolve that rotates to indicate changes of location. It’s a nice effect marred only by the fact that all the flats in Karaj seem to have exactly the same furniture. Costume designer T. F. Dubois has done a nice job of tracking changes in style as Iran becomes more repressive towards women.

Toossi won a Pulitzer for her earlier play, English, which I missed. Wish You Were Here falls short of that standard.

Wish You Were Here continues at the Yale Rep through October 28, 2023. For more information visit the Yale Rep website.

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