Set in Karaj, Iran, Wish You Were Here by Sanaz Toossi chronicles the various relationships between five young women just before, during, and after the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
The play opens on Salme’s (Roxanna Hope Radja) wedding day. Nazanin (Marjan Neshat) is sewing on Salme’s dress as Rana (Nazanin Nour) fusses with Salme’s hair, and Shideh (Artemis Pebdani) files Zari’s (Nikki Massoud) toenails on the side.
The women banter amongst themselves as Iranian pop music plays on the radio, talking about the heat, their vaginas and what men’s penises must look and feel like. There is a closeness to their relationships that feels both fragile and unbreakable at the same time, especially between Nazanin and Rana, who make each other promise to never marry or have children.
The actors are the heartbeat of this play. Radja’s Salme is sincere and deeply loving; Nour’s performance as Rana is as bright and bold as her red pajamas. Pebdani’s performance as Shideh is as light and broad as the lines she’s given but her subtlety and awkwardness as the “New Friend” is keenly played. Massoud as Zari is genuine and sensitive, and Neshat’s portrayal of Nazanin is wistful and poignant.
The final scene between Nazanin and Rana is especially wrenching, when Nazanin denies the existence of her own child in a desperate attempt to bridge the wide gap that has grown between her and Rana, only for Rana to divulge that she’s pregnant, breaking the shallow promise they made to each other a decade earlier.
Arnulfo Maldonado’s set design and Sarah Laux’s costume design both perfectly denote the modest and quaint femininity that these characters embody. The direction by Gaye Taylor Upchurch carefully nurtures the actors’ sensitivities towards each other, maximizing the warmth and connection of their relationships, even in moments of strife.
In the 13 years that span this earnest, thought-provoking play, three weddings, fear, war, and death all serve to test the strength and sanctity of these women’s bonds. Toossi’s script is intimate, and searching, both funny and heartbreaking; Wish You Were Here is a beautiful testament to the strengths and allegiances women find with each other in times of turmoil and oppression.
Wish You Were Here (April 13 – June 5, 2022)
Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call 212-279-4200 or visit https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/wish-you-were-here/
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission