Imagine a Hamlet set not in Denmark, but in Iran. Arian Moayed, an Iranian-American actor, plays the prince in a new dual-language production from Waterwell in New York, May 10-Jun 3, directed by Tom Ridgely.
A review in The New York Times describes how Western influences have permeated Hamlet’s home, set in the early 1900s:
The royal court that is portrayed here is well on the way to becoming thoroughly modernized — and westernized. The men wear tailored European suits or military uniforms… Everybody speaks English. The king, Claudius (Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte) — who has only recently ascended the throne after the suspicious death of his monarch brother — delights his new wife (and former sister-in-law), Gertrude, by giving her a Victrola, which plays the latest tunes from Tin Pan Alley. And when we finally meet the much-discussed foreign invader Fortinbras (Cary Donaldson), he is dressed in colonial whites, with a pith helmet.
In an interview with American Theatre, Moayed talks about the line between East and West that his Hamlet straddles. At the beginning of the play, the Persian royal has just returned from school abroad (Oxford? Cambridge?) and is wearing a three-piece suit. But after the appearance of his father’s ghost, wearing traditional Iranian garb and speaking Farsi, Moayed’s own clothing and language transforms, building the tension between the Eastern and Western influences on Hamlet’s identity.
Moayed also points to certain moments in Shakespeare’s play that fit well with Iranian cultural norms:
“The Iranians in the cast have been joking, “Hamlet is so Iranian.” It’s true for us. In that first moment when Hamlet comes to talk to Claudius and Gertrude, he’s fully intending to back to Wittenberg. But after they speak to him and beg him not to go, he says to her, “I shall in all my best obey you, madam.” That idea is very Iranian. It’s a form of politeness. We call it taarof; it’s a way of respecting your elders and doing what they ask even though it’s not what you want. You always have to give way. There are many moments like that in this play where you as a Westerner may see them one way, but Iranians look at them and go, “Oh shit, that’s Iranian.”
“Another thing: You have to respect your mother. Trust me, no matter who may have heard, the Iranian woman is the ruler of the household. If my mom said to me, “I need you to go pick up my laundry on 199th and Lex,” I would go and do it right now. Culturally we don’t know anything else. Bridging the gap between Western and Eastern, where both sides can see themselves—that to me is the greatest success.”
Read the full interview on the American Theatre website.