Arts & Events

Theater Review: 'Mahmoud'--Tara Grammy Presented by Golden Thread
"Taxi Driver, Gay Man, Pre-teen Girl--One Iranian Actress, One BIG identity crisis."

Ken Bullock
Friday October 24, 2014 - 07:16:00 PM



Tara Grammy's solo show, 'Mahmoud,' 'which she co-wrote and acts in (her director, Tom Arthur Davis, is the other author), is billed this way, seemingly an amusing style of saying what most solo shows are really about: a vehicle to showcase a performer, usually based on sketch comedy. 

But there's much more to 'Mahmoud,' both as clever sketch and, surprisingly, as very immediate theater, than first meets the eye. There're good reasons it won the Best of Fringe in Toronto, the Excellence in Solo Performance Award at the New York Fringe Festival and has sold out at venues in Los Angeles. 

Tara Grammy's a bright young Iranian-Canadian actress--and like the typical solo show, her act makes the most of this. She segues between her three characters with quick offbeat timing and a rubber face, taking on the humorous mannerisms of an Iranian expatriate engineer (the titular Mahmoud) become engineer of my own cab," who hasn't seen his homeland for 25 years or more, but talks about nothing else; a pert Spanish immigrant queen with a jangling laugh, always striking dance poses or on the phone with his Iranian boyfriend who's visiting family in Tehran--and Tara, the author-actress' pubescent alter ego, pouty about being Iranian, which she explains at length in full Valley Girl ...  

"Growing up in Toronto where your ethnicity's your money maker ... I dyed my hair blonde again, but properly ... and bought lots of Nair ... Blonde, hairless and beautiful ... " 

Eloquence seems to take over from hilarious blather here and there--the cabbie reads Hafez's great poems (there's an age-old game, especially on Nawwuz, springtime New Years, in Iran, telling your fortune by flipping open Hafez's Divan at random) or Tara practicing her audition for Romeo & Juliet, pulling out the stops when she flops dead--but even these are cut with street noise and cellphone ringtones. The Spaniard pulls a typical solo show stunt in audience contact, getting a front row spectator to take his picture on his phone as he rhumbas--but another cellphone rings, the exuberant queen wordlessly apologizes with eyes and lips, and the photo op's ruined as he takes the call from Tehran ...  

And just at the point where Tara Grammy's exploited every inch of cleverness and comedy from her characters, both in monologue and dialogue, and the format of the solo performance, just as its reliance on parody and mimicry becomes increasingly obvious ... once again she turns on a dime, while enacting a cab ride Tara takes with Mahmoud--and suddenly everything's strange, deadly serious ... and very theatrical. Words cease and her excellent physical theatrics come to the fore--and as Artaud said about real theater, "you don't really know anymore just where you are anymore"--and then it suddenly ends, before there's a chance of a metaphor or melodrama, diluting the truth of what she's shown us. 

Tara Grammy's now based in Los Angeles, working at the CBS Sketch Comedy Diversity Showcase and appearing in the forthcoming film, 'Jimmy Vesvood: American Hero!' But 'Mahmoud' hails from Toronto, as its author-actress does, a vital theater scene--and one full of that same Diversity--which we seldom see anything from here. Grammy later mentioned that Sohail Parsa--a student of the great Iranian man of theater and film, Bahram Beyzaie, and artistic director at Toronto's Modern Times Stage Company, well-known in Canada's theater community--had a hand in choreographing 'Mahmoud's' statling closing scene. So 'Mahmoud' acquires even more importance to be seen, as does the next Golden Thread presentation, 'Dear Armen,' also from Toronto, by Armenian-Canadians about "gender binaries" (October 30-November 9).  

Friday and Saturday at 8, Sunday at 3 at the Thick House, 1695-18th Street on Potrero Hill, San Francisco. $25; Student-Senior-TBA $20 (--or two-play pass with 'Dear Armen'--$35)