From a large rectangular window, the curtains are pulled back to the mystical sounds of piano, and we are given a glimpse into something special and superb, as Atlantic Theater Company‘s impressive and thoughtful production of English rotates its way into our view. Playwright Sanaz Toossi (Wish You Were Here) has crafted a brilliantly complex tale that maps out our frustrations and the deep humanistic consequences that come when trying to ingest a new language into our souls. Resonating deeply, the stories told here, thanks to the superb direction of Knud Adams (ATC’s Paris), dig deep into the ideas of acceptance, belonging, and connection, finding humor and honor in the difficult framework of a new complex language.
Playing out with a wise composition of humor and pain on a stark set etched with other world complexities by Marsha Ginsberg (Barrow St.’s The Effect), with strong costuming by Enver Chakartash (VT/Broadway’s Is This A Room), lighting by Reza Behjat (Public’s Out of Time), and sound by Sinana Refik Zafar (Broadway’s What the Constitution…), the play finds its force in its interconnected wit and its multiple angled vantage points. The action and interaction mostly takes place in the bland classroom where four students have come together in Karaj, a large suburb of Tehran, Iran to prepare for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (or TOEFL). But what transpires here is anything but bland. It is alive with humanistic honest interactions that resonate on more levels than we can fathom in just one viewing.