January 15, 2019

Dramatic play reading that explored an episode of Bahá’í history draws large crowd

It was standing room only at the dramatic reading of the play, “Tabreez”, written by Marlene Macke, on Nov. 24 at the Ottawa Bahá’í Centre. The full-length play told the story of two families, one Persian, one British, living in Tabriz, Iran, and how their lives intersected around the execution of the Báb on July 9, 1844. The play offered a fascinating combination of historical and fictionalized characters who helped tell the story of this dramatic episode in Bahá’í history.

The nine characters, of British, Persian and Armenian origin, were all played by Bahá’í community members, many of whom had not performed on stage before. The show was directed by David Andrews, a retired  teacher at Canterbury High School and Linda O’Neil and Heather Harvey acted as producers. Nathalie Thirlwall helped to create period costumes, and the poster and program were designed by Del Carry.

The play’s Western characters include David Chandler, a middle-aged British exporter living in Tabriz; his vivacious Canadian niece, Victoria; and their friend Dr. Cormack, an English-Armenian doctor, whose character was based on the real physician that treated the Báb after a severe beating by His enemies. The Persian family consists of the patriarch Mirza Javid, a spice merchant who trades with Chandler; his son, the traditional, sometimes fanatical Mulla Mostafa; his progressively-thinking widowed daughter Shazadeh; and his grandson Farid who works in the family business. The Armenian characters are a couple – Sam Khan, the historically accurate and conflicted commander of the Armenian regiment charged with executing the Báb, and his fictionalized wife, Maryam, a dressmaker and friend of Shazadeh and Victoria. The characters’ lives intertwine through their business relationships, friendships between the women, and everyone’s attempt to understand the historical events that unfold around them. An initial attraction between Victoria and Farid becomes a budding romance with marriage plans by the end of the play.

The characters were played by Ottawa Bahá’ís Fred Afagh, Diana Cartwright, David Ienzi, Lisa Olsen, Lua Parsa, John Rager, Faris Rashidi and Shamim Taherzadeh. Reflecting on her experience playing Victoria, children’s author Lisa Olsen said that "’Tabreez’ demonstrates what can be accomplished when unity of thought, will and action combines with the power of the arts to share the stories of our Faith with the world. Lua Parsa, a project manager who played Shazadeh, observed that “the way the story was told made for a very moving and heartfelt experience for both those reading and those listening.” Mulla Mostafa was played so convincingly by Shamim Taherzadeh, a physician, that his young daughter, who hadn’t heard him raise his voice in real life, asked “Why is Daddy acting so mean? We’ve never seen him get angry like that!”

The playwright, Marlene Macke, who lives in St. Mary’s, Ontario, lived in Ottawa during the 1970s and 80s and has maintained ties with the Ottawa Bahá’í community. The play had been workshopped and informally performed in a number of settings, but this performance was the most ambitious to date. Said Marlene: "Every playwright dreams of seeing her work come alive through the vision of an experienced director, talented actors and tireless producers and crew. That it happened in Ottawa, one of my all-time favourite communities, was truly special. The acclaim by a standing-room-only audience capped off one of the most memorable experiences of my life."

The Báb (“Gate”) was the youthful forerunner of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Bahá’í Faith. He was executed in 1850 at age 30, six years after proclaiming His mission. His anti-fundamentalist and progressive spiritual and social teachings threatened to overturn the social order upheld by the corrupt clergy and backward government of the time. His day of execution, now observed by Bahá’ís as a holy day, came after several years of house arrest and imprisonment in remote prison fortresses. It is estimated that 20,000 of His followers, called Bábís, gave their lives for His faith, often put to death in most unimaginably cruel ways.

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