Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Communism, like General Motors, is people.”
The above is an important reminder shared by a psychology professor to this reviewer many years ago. A reminder that people should always be more important than politics or social, political, and economic ideologies. Unfortunately, that truth seems difficult for humankind to grasp or achieve globally. After the Holocaust, humanity vowed to never let anything that horrific happen again. Yet currently the world seems to avert its gaze from the horrors of human trafficking, the enslavement and murder of Christians in the Middle East, the pandemic violation of civil and human rights, and the arrest, imprisonment, and murder of members of the LGBTQ community in the Middle East and in Africa.
Dewey Moss’ “Death of the Persian Prince” chronicles the plight of gay men in Iran who often choose to undergo transsexual sex reassignment surgery in order to avoid execution by telling the story of one gay man (whose family called him “the prince”) who, after undergoing that surgery, left Iran for the United States to avoid being harassed and/or sold into prostitution. Samantha (Pooya Mohseni) has emigrated from Iran to escape from her brother Cas (Gopal Divan) who paid for his sister’s reassignment surgery and is now cashing in on her status by pimping her to friends and acquaintances looking for sexual encounters with transgender women.
Samantha chooses to live in New York City and establishes a five month relationship with James (George Faya) who served in the Middle East and continues to carry a mixture of guilt and rage from his deployment there. George wants to marry and have children; however he does not know that Samantha is a transgender woman. Ms. Mohseni and Mr. Faya bring a powerful and authentic energy to their performances as they explore important issues of sexual status, roles of women and men, cultural identities and differences, and commitment. It is impossible to watch the gifted Pooya Mohseni relate her character’s story without welling up with tears.
Their détente comes to a blistering climax when James leaves the apartment to buy more wine and Samantha’s brother Cas bursts into the apartment having come from Iran to find her and take her back to Iran to work for him. Mr. Divan delivers a riveting and believable performance as Samantha’s brother whose jealous rage spills over onto the stage with a venomous sting. It is in this exchange that the audience discovers Samantha’s identity and her history in Iran. James’ return to the apartment interrupts this exchange and he discovers from Cas Samantha’s full history and reacts with utter disbelief bordering on disdain. His connection to Samantha counterpoints with the hopelessness and fear inherent in his PTSD.
It is when Cas leaves and Samantha and James face each other in the brilliance of full transparency and honesty that Mr. Moss’ play grabs the psyche and soul of the audience and does not let go until the cathartic ending (which – without a spoiler alert – needs to remain undisclosed). Under Dewey Moss’ exacting and meticulous direction, “Death of the Persian Prince” remains one of the most riveting and life-altering plays in the current canon of LGBTQ theatre.
New York audiences have two more opportunities to see this important play at the south Asian International Performing Arts Festival on August 4th and 8th. See the link to this Festival below. “Death of the Persian Prince” will surely change your thinking about the transgender community and the deep prejudice that surrounds the lives of the brave and heroic individuals who choose to celebrate who they have always been. The Prince is dead. Long live the Princess.