On 19 July 2005, two teenage boys were hanged in a public square in Iran for the alleged rape of a thirteen year old boy. Jay Paul Deratanys' play, Haram Iran, tells the boys' story, their love for each other and the injustice of their punishment in a country where homosexuality was simply not recognised at the time.
Haram – meaning 'forbidden' in Arabic – is the central thread of this thought-provoking drama brought touchingly and beautifully to life at the Above The Stag Theatre. Ayaz is a bookish, scholarly student who is initially teased by football-loving Mahmoud and his friend Fareed. But the two boys soon form an unlikely friendship as they study together, and Ayaz introduces Mahmoud to a world outside their village through "The Catcher in the Rye", one of the many 'haram' English books that Ayaz's mother – a professor who studied in Paris before the revolution – has illegally acquired for him. The boys' new-found, burgeoning friendship does not go un-noticed, neither by Ayaz's mother, who turns a maternal blind eye, nor Fareed whose jealousy and misunderstanding of their relationship with each other ultimately leads to the teenagers’ demise.
The subject matter does not make for comfortable watching. The apparently blatant disregard for the truth during the court scenes; the pain a mother feels knowing that her only son will be sentenced to death and the realisation that there is still so much misunderstanding about homosexuality, often in the name of religion, in the world are all painful reminders of the horror of this event. But Gene David Kirk’s careful, considered and intelligent direction along with remarkable performances from Viraj Juneja (Ayaz), Andrei Costin (Mahmoud) and Silvana Maimone (Ayaz’s mother) ensure that whilst we are not shielded from the inevitable, we are allowed to enter into the lives of two innocents whose only crime was to love each other.
This is a powerful, emotive piece of drama that deals with an atrocious situation. Above The Stag must be applauded for confronting the topic head-on and for allowing a European audience the chance to see Jay Paul Deratany's work. I was left genuinely speechless after this performance and I would implore anyone to buy a ticket for this exceptional production.