A Stunning Education in Language — Review

“In English you will not have redemptive qualities.”

Thus, the Iranian medical student is warned during her worst occupation: an adult course to prepare for the TOEFL, a test in English as a foreign language used for schooling and immigration. Although MCAT is easy to pass and has, we are sure, a beautiful person behind the walls of the classroom (within which their own Persian is forbidden), her English-speaking person alienates others, hostile to herself. For those who speak one language, while others mostly speak another, this split is difficult to explain but easy to recognize. As with all identity crises, the key question is, “Who am I, why, and where?”

Sanaz Tusi’s new moving play, English, explores this problem with a sophisticated understanding of language failures and our own failures in order to rely so deeply on it in communication. The one-act play, staged by Atlantic Theater Company, in a joint production with Roundabout, is a masterfully executed view of the impossibility of translating humanity by imperfect means.

In one class in 2008, Marjan (Marjan Neshat) is teaching a TOEFL course in Karaj, having spent several years abroad in the UK. Friendly and helpful, the wind is slowly breaking out from under her perfection Mary Poppins is constantly studying with Elham (Tala Ash), a medical student with an unstable temperament whose patience for language learning is running out. The test is the only thing that stands between her and her teaching position in Australia, just as it is the only obstacle that keeps her loving grandmother Roy (Puya Mohseni) from her Canadian immigrant son, who would prefer that she not visit. does not yet speak English. her young granddaughter. Their precarious position leads to growing resentment over language and to the idea of ​​leaving behind an integral part of themselves and their culture.

Company with English | Photo: Aaron R. Foster

Not all students in this course intend to leave their homeland. The younger ones – Omid, who boasts of his ability to buy fake American films (and knowledge of the word “bootleg”), and Goli, who prefers English because she “doesn’t want to be poetry like Farsi” – can go abroad, but already sold by dreams. The West is as big in their class as it is outside, where American schools have disappeared and English-brand Coca-Cola cans have become new.

The imposed internationality plays out the characters in different ways, and Toosi’s works make each of them eternal emigrants. Goli finds poetry in Shakira’s “Anywhere, Anywhere” (itself translated from the original Spanish Colombian-Lebanese singer); Omida has relatives living in the States; Marianne herself watches movies Notting Hill if not reminiscent of double-decker buses. The play reminds us that wherever you are, if the promised Hollywood glory of the Anglo-Cultural Empire can reach you, you will always be there.

Tusi’s ingenious concept suggests that the ensemble speaks English with a strong accent only when their characters try to make their own rough translation, speaking “okay” when speaking Farsi. The actors perfectly inhabit this section, each performance reveals the essential truth about the experience of emigrants, without leaning towards the archetype. Roy, the play’s least vocal character, becomes most exciting through Mohseni’s richly textured rendition. In an effort to return the “mother” to her son’s native language, she combines the fatigue of age with the perseverance she gives. “He forgets where he came from in English,” she says anxiously.

Company with English | Photo: Aaron R. Foster

Beautifully lit by Reza Behjat’s warm lighting and appreciated by Sinan Refik Zafar’s chic sonic design, the production moves at a slow, confident pace, giving Tusi’s work a generous time to land before his set rotates from scene to scene, and Kne. a keen eye for school nonsense that can escalate into real-life tensions.

Most contemporary migrants ’stories concern immigration, what happens when a border is crossed and a dream may be realized, but not many explore anxiety emigration. Not quite here yet, definitely not there yet, the emigrants exist in an unenviable limbo of uncertainty: “Will they be kind to me? Will my way of staying here affect them? Am I making the right choice? Do I have one? ” Asking questions asked by those who may never answer them may not seem like the most obvious dramatic choice, but Tusi finds a pulsating life behind each one, saturating what may seem like silly classroom activities, an existential threat to be left behind.

Skillfully understanding these problems, Tusi gives his characters moments of great eloquence, as they cope with the duty of their transfer. Her first of two this season in New York, English – is an outstanding play that convincingly explores the burden of language on those who entail more than one, and the difficulties of communicating with a changing world.

English performs until March 13, 2022 at the Linda Gross Theater Atlantic Theater Company on West 20th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information visit here.

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