Review by: Anne Bokma
We first meet Navid, a gay Iranian man, when he is hiding in the back of a truck on his way to Turkey. Shaking in fear, he is humming the songs of his childhood in an effort to keep himself sane as he escapes the intolerant regime of his homeland. Iran is one of seven countries in the world where being gay can get you killed.
Navid is on his way to Borderland, a place for those applying for refugee status. Izad Etemadi, the 23-year old writer and performer of this haunting and engrossing piece of theatre, takes on the roles of three characters: Navid, the likeable man-boy who is tired of the self-loathing and craves to be free to express who he is; a self-interested operative who helps Navid but also hurts him; and the lovely Layla, a woman who takes him under her wing.
Etemadi’s seamless transitions into each character—lacing running shoes when he’s Navid, pulling a hoodie over his head to play the operative and donning a head scarf over his hair for Layla–are as smooth as the fine strands of silk in a Persian carpet. Each character is distinctly drawn and emotionally fleshed out. Layla, a kind woman rejected by her family for being unmarriageable, is particularly poignant and so effectively rendered by Etemadi that you almost forget she’s played by a man. And he brings a exquisite tenderness to his Navid, especially as he recounts his passionate but unconsummated love for Amir.
First- time playwright Etemadi, just 23, has a wisdom beyond his years and an insight into this cultural milieu that comes from personal experience. His parents were born in Iran and left more than 25 years ago, before Etamadi was born. But they often remind him of what life might have been like for him if they had stayed. This play is the result of his imaginings—what it would be like to be gay in a country where your God and your parents must reject you and your country would want you killed.
Borderland explores the territory of loneliness and the geography of an aching heart that longs to love without fear. And it’s a stark reminder that if you are gay, being born in the wrong place can mean taking the greatest of risks to flee–and be free.