Saturday, January 25, 2020

Mimi's Suitcase ☼ ☼ ☼

Ana Bayat speaks many languages. In her one-woman show "Mimi's Suitcase," she gives us Farsi, Spanish, French, American and Cockney English, depending on where her peripatetic story has taken her. For us, Ms. Bayat has a winning stage presence that bodes well for a career to follow. If "Mimi's Suitcase" still has moments where it feels like a work-in-progress, there are other moments that make us smile in recognition.

Imagine a world led and policed by bearded, religious fanatics who tell you how to dress, how to behave, where to go and with whom. Then imagine being a young teenage girl who has grown up in the freedom of modern-day Barcelona, then has to deal with life in Iran when she is taken back to her native country by a self-centered and oblivious father.

This is a theme we see over and over in stories about modern Iran: A father who cannot see how restrictive life is for the women in his family. We never understand how any man would bring a wife or a daughter back into that country.

We learn how teenage girls in Tehran figured out ways around the restrictions on their lives. We loved Farhad, the Clandestine Video Guy, who managed to smuggle Western videos into Mimi's apartment. We also enjoyed how the hated headscarf could be tweaked to actually display a bit of independence. And don't forget the well-dressed Persian psychic whose roof had been blown off during the Iraq-Iran war.

But these are bits. We want more. Ms Bayat has not decided whether Mimi's story is a comedy or a drama. With the help of overhead projections we are made aware of recent Persian history, but none of it is personal. With one person on stage, we want more facts. What happens at the ending, for example? Simply lying down on a blackened stage tells us little.

We understand Ms. Bayat and so many others of her generation suffered greatly from politics, from religion and from war. But how did it affect her? She shows us disdain for her homeland, which appears to be well-deserved, but we never learn anything except the most superficial things about her, about her father, her family, her career.

Ana Bayat is a very solid actor. As a writer, she has the chance to dig deeper into that suitcase and take us with her, which is where we want to go.


The San Francisco Theater Blog grants "Mimi's Suitcase" Three Stars. The show is well worth seeing. Ana Bayat has a true gift for languages -- now let us hear her real story, not just the one that currently works better on a small stage.

"Mimi's Suitcase"
The Theater of Yugen
2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco
Four Nights ONLY, through January 25.

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