Earworm /تیمور لنگ

World premiere

Earwom had its world premiere proudly presented by Nowadays Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre on February 6, 2024. Due to its success, the run was extended until March 3rd.
Performed by the same cast in both English and Farsi (Persian), the production accommodated 21 shows in English and 9 shows in Farsi.

Generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council, the Government of Ontario, and the Toronto Arts Council this production discusses Canada’s acceptance of individuals associated with the oppressive Islamic Republic regime.

WORLD PREMIERE

Earwom had its world premiere proudly presented by Nowadays Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre on February 6, 2024. Due to its success, the run was extended until March 3rd.
Performed by the same cast in both English and Farsi (Persian), the production accommodated 21 shows in English and 9 shows in Farsi.

Generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council, the Government of Ontario, and the Toronto Arts Council this production discusses Canada’s acceptance of individuals associated with the oppressive Islamic Republic regime.

The story revolves around Homa, an Iranian woman who refuged to Canada with a traumatic history of being tortured and assaulted when she was imprisoned in her home country. The story begins when Homa encounters her interregator in Toronto. Other characters include her son Pendar, who is dating Fatemeh, a tattoo artist.
Reviews:
• The Critic’s Pick, The Globe and Mail: “Earworm at Crow’s Theatre is a must-see amid foreign interference inquiry.” – J.Kelly Nestruck
• Intermission Magazine: “Earworm is as gorgeous as it is thought-provoking.” – Aisling Murphy
• Istvan Reviews: “Earworm is a deeply considered, intense and compassionate piece of theatre.” – Istvan Dugalin
• Our Theatre Voice: “An outstanding world premiere that is pensive and shocking.” – Dave Rabjohn
• A View from the Box: “Earworm’ is a thought-provoking, engaging world premiere play.” – Janine Marley
• Next Magazine: “‘Earworm’ digs into the skin at Crow’s Theatre.” – Andrea Perez

Cast: Aida Keykhaii, Amir Maghami, Amir Zavosh, Parya Heravi

Creative:
Playwright & Director: Mohammad Yaghoubi, Set designer: Amin Shirazi, Lighting Designer: David DeGrow, Composer: Farshad Fozooni, Sound Designer: Sina Shoaie, Visual Art and Video Mapping: Honey Hoseiny, Dramaturge: Chris Abraham, Stage Manager: Sabrina Weinstein, Production Manager: Aaheli Mukherjee, Intimacy Director: Anisa Tejpar, Photographer & Videographer: Ali Mostolizadeh, Assistant Directors: Kimia Ouloub and Amir Parsa, Assistant Stage Manager: Amir Parsa, Public Relations and Marketing: Kiarash (Kiaa) Aalipour.

SPECIAL THANKS: Chris Abraham and Crow’s Theatre team members, Soheil Parsa, Mehrdad Ariannejad and Tirgan team members, Tony Nardi, Matt Jones, Kayhan Mortazavi, Sasan Asvandi, Mostafa Kherghepoosh, Moein Motallebi, Mostafa Azizi, Mohammad Tajdolati, Shahram gohardehi, Mehrsan Saffarian, Afshan Alamshahzadeh, Farbod Heravi, Tina Soorani, Maral Karaee, Homa Bondar, Nana Valajam, Mehdi Azizi, and Marzieh Ozgoli, and Taraneh Hajian.

Nowadays Theatre Company extends sincere gratitude to the sponsors of this show: Golnoosh Asadian, Pooneh Pourhabibi, Hosein Amooshahi, Bahram Farhadi, Khosrow Shemirani (Journal Hafteh), and Roham Ranji (Radio Arina).

Earworm
A Nowadays Theatre Production in Association with Crow’s Theatre

Playwright and Director: Mohammad Yaghoubi

Cast:
* Aida Keykhaii
* Amir Maghami
* Parya Heravi
* Amir Zavosh

Production Team:

Set designer: Amin Shirazi, 

Lighting Designer: David DeGrow,

Composer: Farshad Fozooni,

Sound Designer: Sina Shoaie,

Visual Art and Video Mapping: Honey Hoseiny,

Dramaturge: Chris Abraham,

Stage Manager: Sabrina Weinstein,

Production Manager: Aaheli Mukherjee,

Intimacy Director: Anisa Tejpar, 

Photographer & Videographer: Ali Mostolizadeh,

Assistant Directors: Kimia Oloub and Amir Parsa,

Assistant Stage Manager: Kimia Oloub and Amir Parsa,

Public relation and Marketing: Kiaa (Kiarash) Aalipour.

Marketing coordinator: Homa Bondar

Programme Designer: Sara Adham

Volunteers: Homa Bondar, Mehdi Azizi, Marzieh Ozgoli, Taraneh Hajian.

SPECIAL THANKS: Chris Abraham and Crow’s Theatre team members, Soheil Parsa, Mehrdad Ariannejad and Tirgan team members, Tony Nardi, Matt Jones, Kayhan Mortazavi, Sasan Asvandi, Mostafa Kherghepoosh, Moein Motallebi, Mostafa Azizi, Mohammad Tajdolati, Shahram gohardehi, Mehrsan Saffarian, Afshan Alamshahzadeh, Farbod Heravi, Tina Soorani, Maral Karaee, Homa Bondar, Nana Valajam, Mehdi Azizi, and Marzieh Ozgoli, and Taraneh Hajian.

Nowadays Theatre Company extends sincere gratitude to the sponsors of this show: Golnoosh Asadian, Pooneh Pourhabibi, Hosein Amooshahi, Bahram Farhadi, Khosrow Shemirani (Journal Hafteh), and Roham Ranji (Radio Arina).




Photos by Dahlia Katz

 

COMPANY BIOGRAPHIES

 

The Cast

AIDA KEYKHAII

Homa

Aida Keykhaii is a bilingual (Farsi and English) actor, director, producer, and theatre instructor with over a decade’s experience in the industry. She holds an M.A. in Theatre Directing and a B.A. in Acting from the University of Tehran. After moving to Canada, Aida co-founded the Toronto-based Nowadays Theatre, and she made her debut Canadian English-language performance in The Only Possible Way when Nowadays Theatre was the in residency at Canadian Stage, 2018-19. Aida received amazing feedback from audiences and critics for performing in the English premiere of Winter of 88 at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, 2020, and for performing in Heart of a Dog, the Next Stage Theatre Festival, 2022. Her recent appearance in film was Harbour House and on stage was Fertility Slippers in August 2023. Select Theatre and Film Credits: What We Do in The Shadows (F.X.), Coroner (CBC), Children of Fire, Harbour House, Persimmon, Drought and Lies, From The Basement To The Roof, Winter of 88, Proof, Iceland, and We Are All fine. Select Awards and Honours: The Iran Festival of University Theatre for Outstanding Acting, Olive; The International Iran Festival of University Theatre award for Outstanding Directing, Goodbye; Honourable Mention from Canadian Stage in Direction and NOW’s annual list of the “Best of the Fest” for Outstanding Production, Ensemble, and Direction, Swim Team.

 

AMIR MAGHAMI

Pendar

Amir graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Tehran and a master’s degree in civil engineering with a minor in Computer Science from the University of Toronto. While navigating the world of equations and computations, he discovered a passion for theatre. Previously Amir performed in On the Shoulders of Antonio by Mohammad Yaghoubi, solidifying his belief that art is not just a pastime but a fundamental essence of life. For Amir, life without art is mere existence, a conviction that he holds, and which continues to shape his journey at the intersection of his pursuits and expressive arts.

 

 

PARYA HERAVI

Fatemeh

Parya Heravi is an Iranian/Canadian theatre actress and doctor of dental surgery currently based in Toronto. She graduated from Shamayel Institute of Theatre in Iran in 2015.

She started her theatre career as an actress at Carbon Theatre Company in 2016. Since then, she has appeared in two short films and more than 18 productions, as well as performing in various national and international theatre festivals. Her last performance in Iran won her the award for best actress in the Provincial Fajr Festival.

She has moved to Toronto in 2022, her theatre experiences in Canada include playing the role of “Noora” in “Rubble”, a co-production of Aluna Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille, and the role of “Zahira” in the workshop of “Zahira” by Andrew Moody at Theatre Passe Muraille. She is now working with Nowadays Theatre in “Earworm”, playing the role of “Fatemeh” on stage at Crow’s Theatre in February 2024.

 

 AMIR ZAVOSH

Mohammad

Amir Zavosh is an actor, playwright, scriptwriter, and theatre and film director who has been working in the film and theatre industries since 1998. He has acted in more than fifty theatre productions, films, and television series, and has written several plays and scripts. He has directed several shows and three short films.  Following his debut English-language performance in The Only Possible Way presented by Nowadays Theatre (Canadian Stage, 2019), Amir relished his second experience performing in English by working again with Nowadays Theatre, featuring in Winter of 88 at the 2020 Next Stage Theatre Festival.

The Creative Team

MOHAMMAD YAGHOUBI     

Playwright and Director

Born and raised in Iran, Mohammad Yaghoubi is an award-winning playwright, director, screenwriter, theatre instructor, and the co-artistic director of Toronto-based Nowadays Theatre company.  With over a decade’s experience in theatre, Mohammad moved to Canada in 2015 and co-founded Nowadays Theatre company in 2016.  His works have been performed around the world, including Adana, Austin, Brussels, Calgary, Chicago, Dallas, Montreal, Muelheim, Prague, San Francisco, Sidney, Stockholm, Strasbourg, Sulaymaniyah, Tehran, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington. Recent Credits: Persimmon (360-degree video project), Heart of a Dog (Online at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, 2022), Winter of 88 (Next Stage Theatre Festival, 2020, Factory Theatre MainSpace). Selected Awards: The Promising Pen Prize from Cahoots Theatre for Persimmon, 2021; First place winner of the Iranian Playwrights Society and third place winner of the New Play Contest in Toronto’s Fringe Festival – 2016 for Outstanding Writing – A Moment of Silence;  The National Theatre Critics Society Award for Outstanding Writing – Geraniums;  The National Theatre Critics Society Award for Outstanding Direction- Dance of Torn Papers and The Fadjr Theatre Festival Award for Outstanding Direction and Writing – Winter of 88.

 

AMIN SHIRAZI

Set Designer

Amin Shirazi’s artistic journey began in 1997 with the founding of Namava, a university theatrical group that evolved into a co-founded company. In five years, they produced four plays, including the renowned Siphon, premiering at the 2003 Iran International University Theatre Festival. Amin served as the set designer for Siphon and most Namava shows, marking a pivotal period that led to his master’s degree in dramatic literature in 2009. Since his 2001 debut as a set designer, Amin seamlessly blended his directorial and playwriting skills with visual storytelling. His commitment to set design became a distinctive feature of his theatrical talents, enriching each performance. Post-migration to Canada, Amin co-founded Goussan Theatre Company in 2016, contributing to seven performances and play readings, notably hosting Iranian theatre artists. Beyond his roles as a playwright and director, Amin played a crucial role in the set design process for two Goussan Theatre Company shows. Winner of the 2018 démART-Mtl program, Amin penned his first English play, 9428, during a six-month Geordie Theatre Company residency. The play, awarded first place in the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival New Play Contest, showcased Amin’s excellence as an author, art director, and set designer at the Toronto Fringe Festival in July 2022.

 

DAVID DEGROW        

Lighting Designer

David is a designer, production manager, and occasional thinker of great thoughts working in Toronto. He has been part of some 400 productions in Toronto and across Canada, and his designs have been nominated for three Dora awards. He is also in the final year of his PhD candidacy at the University of Toronto, where his research focuses on the complex relationships between theatre architecture, artistic mandate, audiences, and the city.

 

SINA SHOAIE

Sound Designer

Sina is a composer and sound designer born and raised in Iran, based in Toronto, who explores the intricate relationship between sound and human behavior. With a background in Design from KNYTD (in Kyiv) and a Doctor of Business Administration from Tehran University, he balances being a composer and a music entrepreneur. His works have been featured in notable exhibitions at Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts (TMoCA) in Iran, STUK art centre in Belgium and National Museum of Fine Art Quebec ( MNBAQ ) in Canada. He has collaborated with esteemed artists, showcasing his work in sound design for theatre, motion pictures, installations, and audio-visual performances. Sina has released four concept albums and performed at renowned festivals, including Tehran Contemporary Music Festival and Inter-Access Toronto in 2023.

 

ALI MOSTOLIZADEH

Photographer and Videographer

Ali Mostolizadeh is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Waterloo. Ali’s interest in film has directed him to include documentary films into his research. Ali’s first film 7 Menaras got accepted in Kerman’s International Tourism Film Festival in Iran when he was 18. Since then, as a filmmaker, he has been involved in making the films representing findings of his academic works through reinforcing stories of non-dominant subjects. Ali’s films have been screened and acclaimed in the academic conferences of his field. As an actor, Ali appeared in Angels in Iran directed by Mohammad Yaghoubi in Toronto, George Ignatieff Theatre in 2018.

 

HONEY HOSEINY

Visual Art and Video Mapping

Honey Hoseiny is an Iranian artist, currently based in Toronto. With a background in TV, theatre, and multidisciplinary art, he’s excited to meet other artists and contribute to the city’s thriving creative environment. Honey has a background in acting, puppetry, and multimedia directing, as well as a BA in Puppet Theatre and an MA in Dramatic Literature. His cutting-edge interactive works investigate the intersection between visual arts and technology. He is also the co-founder and Executive Director of Simiya Group, which is the pioneer of immersive and interactive new media art at the junction of performance, installation, gaming, and technology.

 

FARSHAD FOZOONI

Musician

Farshad Fozooni is an established musician and composer in the Iranian theatre and film industries. He is known for his unique composition style, utilizing various instruments to enhance play experiences. His exceptional success includes prestigious awards, such as Best Sound Designer at the The Fadjr Theatre Festival 2019 and Best Composer in 2017 and 2010. Farshad’s remarkable talent earned him the Composing Commendation Plaque in 2013 and an honorary diploma from the National Theatre Critics Association of Iran in 2007. He composed for Nowadays Theatre’s Heart of a Dog in Iran (2014) and Canada (Next Stage Theatre Festival, 2022). He is excited about his second collaboration with Nowadays Theatre.

Arman Moghadam – Visual Art and Video Mapping

Arman Moghadam, an Architect and Creative Coder, possesses a personality characterized by introversion, intuition, thinking, judging, and assertiveness. He excels in merging art and technology, specializing in Interactive Media, Video Mapping, Animation, and Installation. His impressive work includes contributions to the Creative Code Festival 2020 in Manhattan as a Visual Artist and Creative Coder, and engagements from the Azadi Tower in Tehran to international puppet festivals. In the professional realm, Arman’s expertise shines through his role as a Creative Coder and Media Maker at SIMIYAGROUP, demonstrating his commitment to R&D and interactive media creation. He has also left his mark as a Front-End Developer and Interactive Designer at ARYANMEHR, showcasing his web-based animation skills. Arman’s educational background in computer programming is complemented by a skill set covering various programming languages and tools. Besides his professional achievements, Arman enjoys games, violin playing, painting, and sports, making him a well-rounded individual with a profound passion for life and creativity.

 

ANISA TEJPAR

Intimacy Director

Anisa Tejpar is a dancer, choreographer, and creative contributor with 20 years of experience in performance. From stage, film and television to video games and commercials, Anisa has created and supported all scales of media as an Intimacy Professional. Anisa has a certificate from Principal Intimacy Professionals in Vancouver and currently teaches Consent + Boundaries for Dancers at Toronto Metropolitan University. As a graduate of Canada’s National Ballet School, her training has directly translated to how she assists the creation of dance works and feeds her vision in the field of intimacy. She has collaborated with prestigious institutions such as The National Ballet of Canada, Ballet BC, Côté Danse, and various film and television productions. Furthermore, Anisa serves on the Board of Directors for Canada’s National Ballet School and is a member of the Performance Program Advisory Committee for St. Lawrence College. She has also made significant contributions to Dancing with Parkinson’s, where she has served as a choreographer and director for their Intergenerational Dance Project, which aims to connect youth and seniors through dance. Anisa is also the host of Inside the Arts on Sauga 960AM.

 

AAHELI MUKHERJEE

Production Manager

Aaheli Mukherjee (she/her) is a pduction manager with a professional background in education and healthcare. While currently based in Toronto, her South-Asian heritage as well as being born and raised in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and Oman) informs her identity and appreciation for diverse expressions of art. She started her career in Toronto theatre in the Leigha Lee Browne Theatre at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, as a student working on projects such as The Circle, The Shell, and We Are Proud to Present. In addition to her work on Earworm, she has been the Production Manager for Shakespeare in Action’s Otîhêw (2023), and the Production Manager for the Paprika Theatre Festival since 2022.

 

SABRINA WEINSTEIN

Stage Manager

Sabrina Weinstein is a stage manager, theatre producer, and multidisciplinary theatre creator. Since graduating in May 2022 with top honours from the Center for Drama Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto, she has gone on to work with companies such as Canadian Stage, Musical Stage Company, Crow’s Theatre, Theatre by the Bay, and Vita Brevis Arts. She stage managed Silence for the 2021 showcase. Her work as a stage manager and producer led her to working at Canadian Stage in the summer of 2022 as an intern producer, event coordinator for the Festival of Ideas and Creation, and stage manager for the 2022 RBC Emerging Artists Program. Currently, Sabrina is working at Crow’s Theatre as the front of house and box office supervisor. Recent credits include Featherhead and Jackes and Jills.

 

AMIR PARSA

Assistant Director & Assistant Stage Manager

Amir Parsa is a skilled theatre professional with a Bachelor’s degree in Drama. He has extensive experience in directing, puppeteering, puppet-making, lighting design, stage managing and set design. Amir’s love for theatre is evident in everything he does – whether he is performing on stage or working behind the scenes. He is a friendly, positive, and dedicated team player who brings passion and energy to every production he is a part of.

 

KIMIA OLOUB

Assistant Director

Kimia, originally raised and born in Iran, relocated to Canada in 2020. She pursued her academic interests in Fashion Design and Techniques at George Brown College. With a background in theatre, Kimia has previously worked as an actress and assistant director in Iran. Currently residing in Canada, she is actively striving to pursue her passion for theatre and further contribute to the performing arts scene in her new home.

 

KIARASH (KIAA) AALIPOUR

Public Relations and Marketing

Kiarash (Kiaa) Aalipour is a multilingual communications and advocacy consultant with experience across Europe, the Middle East, and North America. Alongside his consulting endeavours, he is a journalist and a member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Kiarash is an enthusiastic lover of art and culture and has a deep-rooted passion for theatre dating back to his childhood. He has participated in several workshops at Nowadays Theatre Company. Furthermore, Kiarash is a committed human rights defender and currently resides in the Greater Toronto Area.

Show Dates:

Feb 6 – Feb 25, 2024

Where:

Studio Theatre
Studio Theatre, Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Ave, Toronto, ON M4M 2T1

Duration: 120 Minutes

Reviews

Critic’s Pick

Earworm at Crow’s Theatre is a must-see amid foreign interference inquiry

J.Kelly Nestruck

The Critic’s Pick, The Globe and Mail: “Earworm at Crow’s Theatre is a must-see amid foreign interference inquiry.” – J.Kelly Nestruck

While the federal inquiry into foreign interference is on a break, Commissioner Justice Marie-Josée Hogue and Canadian MPs of all stripes should take the opportunity to travel to Toronto to see Nowadays Theatre’s Earworm, a play that skilfully dramatizes the issues at stake regarding our democratic freedoms.

This hair-raising piece of political theatre, written and directed by Mohammad Yaghoubi and presented in association with Crow’s Theatre, illuminates that Canada isn’t much of a refuge any more for many who have come here to escape persecution and repression.

That this message sneaks up on you in what initially seems like a comedy about an intergenerational immigrant family makes it all the more effective.

Homa (Aida Keykhaii), Earworm’s extraordinary protagonist, is an Iranian-Canadian with a feminist podcast where, largely, she speaks out against the regime in Iran and its human rights abuses.

Pendar (Amir Maghami), Homa’s university-age son who lives with her, is respectful and loving toward his mother, knowing the sacrifices she’s made for him, but still seems slightly embarrassed by her outspokenness.

Select performances are done in Farsi, with English surtitles on a screen above the stage.

In their relationship, theatregoers will recognize a dynamic familiar from Canadian dramas about immigrants and their children ranging from David French’s Leaving Home to Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience – but with a larger-than-life matriarch ruling the roost in this case, and it’s left up to you to decide which generation holds the more progressive opinions.

While Homa worries her son, who she brought to Canada when he was just a child, has grown complacent about the freedoms they enjoy here, Pendar feels his mother ignores issues such as Islamophobia in her new country amid her narrow focus on the outrages of the Islamic Republic.

A divide emerges when Fatemeh (Parya Heravi), Pendar’s girlfriend, invites Homa over for dinner to meet her religious father who is visiting from Iran – and has one request: would she mind wearing the hijab?

Homa has very strong political feelings about anything that strikes of “mandatory hijab” – and deeply personal reasons for refusing such a request. But Pendar doesn’t understand why she can’t just pretend she is having a bad hair day and politely put on a head scarf for a night for the sake of harmony with a family he intends to marry into.

When intermission comes, Earworm seems like it might be heading toward a hackneyed form of North American theatre – the dinner-party comedy. You know, where a group of characters with different politics or beliefs end up sitting next to each other and cordiality gradually gives way to chucked chelo kebabs.

My assumption was that the second act would see the brash and not always likeable (though very funny) Homa having her perceptions of ultrareligious Muslims like Fatemeh’s dad, Mohammad (a superbly simmering Amir Zavosh), tempered.

All I will say further about the plot, however, is that Yaghoubi’s play goes off in its own surprising direction.

Or perhaps I should say directions. When Homa has the audience decide which topic she will next podcast about early on (you get to choose by a show of hands), Earworm sets up the idea that there are different ways that this story might play out, just as there are different futures possible in Iran after the protests of 2022 sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the morality police (and indeed different possible futures in Canada). Yaghoubi aims to be honest but not hopeless in his art.

While his staging as a director can be a little pro forma, Yaghoubi’s writing is wonderful – full of pleasing metatheatricality but anchored by truthful characters, and finding a brilliant sonic metaphor for how the past hounds Homa. (Sina Shoaie is the sound designer.)

Meanwhile, playing Homa, Keykhaii – who co-founded Nowadays Theatre with Yaghoubi in 2016 – is simply electric, especially in delivering her artfully constructed podcast polemics; these are lengthy but nevertheless keep you on the edge of your seat with a sense of the danger of the opinions being expressed.

The questions asked in Earworm have resonance well beyond the specifics of the Iranian diaspora – the harassment of which by foreign agents the Conservative Party has requested the inquiry on interference expand to examine – to similar alleged on-the-ground and online influence activities in Canada emanating from other authoritarian countries, and countries drifting toward authoritarianism.

But centring as it does around a Toronto-based podcast that takes aim at the Iranian regime, Earworm also faces up to the reality that the internet has erased many of the differences between here and there. We are all connected and borders are, in even more ways than before, a fiction and the sooner Canada catches up to that fact the better.

I saw Earworm on a night where its four performers all acted their parts in Farsi, with English surtitles on a screen above the stage. At most of the performances, however, they perform in English. So check before you book based on your preference.

For me, seeing the show in Farsi was a great opportunity to watch local actors perform in a non-official language, and be immersed in an audience clearly deeply affected by the subject matter and debates of the play. It was an illuminating experience that continued in the lobby in postshow conversations – as I’m sure it would be, too, for any commissioners and politicians who buy a ticket.

REVIEW: Earworm is as gorgeous as it is thought-provoking

Aida Keykhaii in “Earworm”, Photo by Dahlia Katz

he English language is filled with strange idioms — “happy as a clam” comes to mind, and “the elephant in the room.” These often nonsensical phrases add character to everyday speech, making it feel lived-in and personal.

“Earworm” is one such non-sequitur. Zillennials like me may recall DJ Earworm, who built a name for himself by posting intoxicating remixes of Top 40 pop on YouTube in the late 2000s. In common parlance, an earworm is a musical hook so catchy it gets stuck in your head for hours or days on end. It’s a tuneful phrase so grabby it claws itself into your subconscious, soundtracking your day-to-day. It’s an annoyance, even if it comes from a song you love.

What, then, if the “earworm” isn’t music at all, but the voice of a former abuser?

Mohammad Yaghoubi’s Earworm scrapes at the edges of the idiom, making for a sinister, gorgeously conceived exploration of abuse and femicide in post-revolution Iran. When we meet Homa (Aida Keykhaii), she’s a podcaster in Toronto, dressed in fashionable clothing and a chic short haircut. She lives with her son Pendar (Amir Maghami), who’s considering proposing to his girlfriend, Fatemeh (Parya Heravi). Homa and Pendar have a close, loving relationship, especially in the aftermath of the death of Pendar’s father back home in Iran.

But when Fatemeh asks Pendar and his mother to look after her dog while her father (Amir Zavosh) visits Toronto, things change. The past Homa thought she left back home — her captivity in an Iranian prison, her torture at the hands of an evil man with a chest tattoo, her obligation to wear a hijab she hates — isn’t so far away. At the outset of Earworm, it might seem that the dog’s yaps are the titular pest, interfering with Homa’s podcasting and driving the mother-son duo crazy with its yapping. But that’s the genius of Yaghoubi’s text — the dog’s barks are a clever red herring, paving the way to a gut-wrenching twist in the play’s back half.

Yaghoubi’s playwriting and directing is in top form here, providing context for the historical treatment of women in Iran without over-explaining it. Homa’s podcast serves as a smart vessel for backstory and cultural circumstances, offering a bridge between the Canadian audience in the studio space of Crow’s Theatre and the human rights abuses happening halfway across the world. Yaghoubi plays with a choose-your-own-adventure structure that capitalizes on the theatre’s intimacy — Homa often asks questions of us, and Keykhaii waits patiently for the answers, making eye contact with each and every patron in the space.

Earworm is made all the more compelling by video and projection designs by Ali Mostolizadeh, Honey Hoseiny, and Arman Moghadam, which beam Farsi translations and video snippets onto the bare back wall of Amin Shirazi’s set, otherwise populated by fairly nondescript furniture to suggest the crampedness of Toronto apartments. Sound design by Sina Shoaie, too, elevates the experience of both Homa’s podcast and the mental anguish the single mother experiences when she meets Fatemeh and her father. Overall, the design is top-notch, making much of little with style and ingenuity.

It’s the performances that further punt Earworm over the line from good to great. Yaghoubi’s team performs Earworm in Farsi and English on alternating nights — an impressive feat on its own — and each person onstage overcomes any hurdle imposed by that linguistic challenge to create vivid, deeply felt characters. Keykhaii masters the volley from comedy to drama, exploring the depths of each feeling with integrity and craft, making the most of her position as the show’s protagonist and lead. Though they have less to say, Maghami, Heravi, and Zavosh, too, fully flesh out the inner conflicts and desires of the people they represent, expertly displaying everything from the turmoil of a father-daughter relationship gone sour to the butterflies of a couple young and in love.

Once again, a Crow’s programming choice has proven itself to be ahead of the curve, serving its audience a story they might not have known they wanted. This Nowadays Theatre production is stunning from top to tail, a must-see for anyone who cares about human rights, the power of a familial bond, or great theatre in Toronto.

Istvan Reviews ➤ EARWORM ⏤ Nowadays Theatre | Crow’s Theatre

Aida Keykhaii in “Earworm”, Photo by Dahlia Katz

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Aida Keykhaii in “Earworm”, Photo by Dahlia Katz

Ever since The Only Possible Way back in 2019, I’ve caught a handful of Nowadays Theatre productions and have been consistently intrigued by Mohammad Yaghoubi’s work. An Iranian immigrant, he pulls his home country’s fraught circumstances into his plays, allows them to fester and forges them into innovative and insightful theatrical shape. Though this word gets bandied about ubiquitously, Yaghoubi is an authentic Brechtian, confidently employing meta-theatrical devices, not as a stylish gimmick, but in a way that feels purposeful,  urgent and galvanizing.

Earworm, a co-production with Crow’s Theatre, is the first play I’ve seen of his I’d call a thriller. Giving it a genre signifier feels a little reductive, but certainly apt. When we first meet Homa (Aida Keykhaii) and her son, Pendar (Amir Maghami); their domestic banter is familiar and amusing. We sense both their mutual love and exasperation. Lost keys and a yapping dog are a light lead-in to their shared life; tension mounts as Homa’s traumatic backstory is gradually revealed and the second act thrusts them into danger.

Keykhaii is a firmly grounded and impassioned presence. Her portrait of Homa—devoted mother and outspoken activist—contains multitudes that are carefully balanced and revealed with naturalism and grace. She’s a modest yet assertive bad-ass, diligently challenging herself and her son. When Pendar requests she wear hijab to satisfy his conservative fiancé and her father, it causes a rift between them and begins a deeper conversation about trust, responsibility and personal integrity.

Maghami’s Pendar is as vexing as he is endearing. A good-natured and gentle soul, he has a tendency to needle and patronize. Like his mother, he’s working through the interwoven and often conflicting pressures of religion, family, and romance—Iran looms large over them, even in Canada. Geographically removed, Iran is never at a distance psychologically.

Homa has a podcast in which she opposes the current Islamic regime, tells her audience—us in the theatre; and her unseen, in-story listeners—about various topics including her complicated history with Islam, with being a rebellious woman navigating two different societies. The spectre of Sahar Khodayari, the “Blue Girl,” is conjured and haunts the story. We hear some of her listeners’ responses and these testimonial clips give a sense of her impact on the community, but when one of them pleads for Homa to be careful, we get our first inkling of threat.

In the second act, surprises abound. The first of which is Fatemeh (Parya Heravi), Pendar’s betrothed. Our affection for her grows as we realize she’s far more understanding of his mother’s attitudes than Pendar’s impression suggested. Even her father, Mohammad (Amir Zavosh), isn’t the man we expected—seemingly humble and diminutive, allowing his daughter to call the shots.

As this pre-marriage dinner party progresses, Homa’s behaviour becomes increasingly worrisome. Awkward conversation gives way to suspense and devastating revelations. It is here that the play begins to nod—perhaps intentionally—towards Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, in which a former political prisoner in an unnamed South American country must grapple with the identity of a stranger who, well, isn’t. Zavosh is particularly unnerving here, allowing us an uncomfortable glimpse at vile intentions in a timid and soft-spoken guise.

As the story unfolds with a steady naturalism, Yaghoubi pulls us out with deliberately fourth-wall breaking asides. Sometimes the characters address us, sometimes the actors themselves, referencing the playwright and his intentions. Amin Shirazi’s minimalist set features very unassuming white furniture pieces; the mundane lack of colour becomes thematically relevant later on. It also provides a canvas for colourful flourishes to pop out as significant. Homa’s beautiful outfits are stunning and express her assertive, playful nature. Green and red elements in particular—alluding to Iran’s flag—resonant. Imagery projected on the back wall, designed by Honey Hoseiny and Arman Moghadam, provide further visual interest and Brechtian immersion.

With its complex, persuasive characters and pointed self-awareness, Earworm is a deeply considered, intense and compassionate piece of theatre.

Photo of Parya Heravi by Dahlia Katz

“An outstanding world premiere that is pensive and shocking”

Years of Iranian civil strife as a result of violent revolutions in 1979 and 2022 are depicted in Mohammad Yaghoubi’s new play ‘Earworm.’ This outstanding world premiere is both pensive and shocking as it deals with how Iranian discord can echo across the world and specifically in Canada.

From Yaghoubi’s notes, facing horrors one thought you had escaped and learning that heroes can be otherwise are prevalent themes in the story.

Homa (Aida Keykhaii) is an immigrant from Iran who clearly has a dark past as a victim from her days in Iran. Living with her soft spoken son, Pendar (Amir Maghami), she clearly plays the role of social consciousness as she rails against the clerical regime of Iran. As a blogger in Toronto, she is open about her past and bitterly condemns events in Tehran.

Conflicts arise as her son’s fiancé, Fatemeh, fiercely played by Parya Heravi, is perceived as a conservative Muslim with an extremely conservative father. A dinner invitation is fraught with possible conditions – must Homa wear a hijab, tone down her rhetoric, even avoid smoking?

The conditions are not met, but the invitation stands. Fatemeh is less conservative as perceived with bare arms and amorous advances on Pendar – until her father appears played by Amir Zavosh. Homa’s Iranian nightmares are ignited as she comes face to face with horror and the story spirals into blackness.

Keykhaii’s performance is strongly understated – her passions are keen but controlled. Anger at the regime is quietly forceful. Her frustrations with Pendar are open but loving. This subtlety gives strength to her second act where she finally blazes and careens through anger and horror.

As the quietly frustrated son, Maghami also is subtly controlled. At times, though, he is too much arms and fingers as he points at his mother wildly. Heravi brilliantly plays the naïve girl friend. As the crisis mounts, her shock is alarming, but her reaction is more inward than explosive. We can’t imagine her horror as she grabs at the hems of her dress reeling and barely standing.

Zavosh as the father is also staggeringly subtle. His arms are often folded with a wry grin. He does indeed become the “smiling damned villain.”

Several moments gave way to very quiet dialogue. Perhaps this was part of the understated conflicts that are seething below the surface, but it was frustrating at times for the audience.

Sina Shoaie’s sound design was forceful with music underscoring the abhorrent animus. The constant barking of the dog signified the intrusion of one family on another. Projections were artful and, at times, staggering.

The double ending (not double switch) was inventive, frightening and added thoughtful dimension. Yaghoubi’s writing achieves his pronounced goals as the horrors of unrepresentative governing are displayed in the broken lives of family and lovers.

A number of listed dates are performed in Persian (Farsi) with English subtitles. These diverse talents add to the exceptionality of this cast made up mostly of Iranian background.

https://www.ourtheatrevoice.com/items-2/’earworm’-by-mohammad-yaghoubi–

A View From the Box: “Earworm’ is a thought-provoking, engaging world premiere play.” – Janine Marley

Homa believes that she has finally found safety in her new home of Toronto, Canada, but when she comes face to face with a dark figure from her past, everything she knows is suddenly in question. Writer and director Mohammad Yaghoubi’s Earworm talks about all this and so much more in its world premiere in association with Crow’s Theatre. With select performances being performed in Persian (Farsi) with English Surtitles along with the English Language performances, there are several ways to explore this engaging new work.

Earworm tells the story of Homa, an Iranian immigrant who has settled in Toronto with her son Pendar. Homa has a podcast, where she talks about life in Iran, along with her life in Toronto. Pendar is devoted to a young lady named Fatemeh, whom he wishes to marry. He’s even looking after her dog while her father is visiting from Iran, much to Homa’s dismay and distraction. Everything goes awry when Homa realizes that she knows Fatemeh’s father from somewhere. What’s unique is that after this point, the play actually has two possible endings: the original one Yaghoubi wrote several years ago, and a new one which resulted as a response to the violence against women experienced in Iran in 2022. Using the same text but in two VERY different ways, Yaghoubi gives back the agency to the incredible female characters he’s written in the second ending.

Aida Keykhaii
Photo by Dahlia Katz

Homa’s podcast provides a very interesting interactive element to the production. At times, Homa asks the audience questions, which we answer by show of hands; she even allows us to choose which episode we’d like to hear out of two choices, making each opportunity to see this production a unique one. These moments are very important as they not only provide background information on the characters themselves, but also allow for a greater understanding about the context in which Yaghoubi is writing from as well. In such a small space, the direct address in these portions is fitting, and gives us a degree of intimacy with Homa which we don’t get with the other characters.

Parya Heravi, Amir Maghami
Photo by Dahlia Katz

Amin Shirazi’s set design is simple yet effective. The contrast between the brightly patterned pillows and tablecloths with the stark white furniture is representative of Homa’s mental and emotional state. The cork boards in the first act full of Homa’s ideas for her podcast are a great addition to the set; it totally makes sense that as a creative person she’d have little sticky notes everywhere with ideas for future episodes and what to research etc. When the notion of The White Room is introduced at the end of the play, the set design takes on a whole new and profound meaning; it’s clear that a piece of Homa never truly left that room at all. The team of Ali Mostolizadeh, Honey Hoseiny, and Arman Moghadam, who worked on the videography and video mapping are extraordinary. The use of projection throughout the piece allowed us to have multiple languages being understood simultaneously, with Persian captions appearing during the messages left for Homa by her listeners, and English surtitles appear throughout the Persian language performances. It also gives the podcast portions a feel as if we’re watching a YouTube video, with plenty of graphics and clips to back up what Homa is talking about.

Aida Keykhaii
Photo by Dahlia Katz

The women of Earworm give particularly powerhouse performances. Aida Keykhaii stars as Homa, and she is riveting from start to finish. Whether she’s chiding her son for losing his keys (again) or scared for her life at seeing her tormentor once more, Keykhaii delivers an emotional, stirring performance. She is matched by Parma Heravi who plays Fatemeh. Only appearing in act two, Heravi certainly makes an impression with the time she’s on stage; her performances in the two ending scenes are so vastly different, yet whether it’s fear or power, Heravi delivers the lines with passion and poise. Amer Maghami’s Pendar and Amir Zavosh’s Mohammad provide interesting foils for the female characters of the play. While both certainly hold their own in their roles, their dynamics were different from that of Keykhaii and Heravi. When all four actors are on stage together, the scene has the perfect tension of a couple’s parents meeting for the first time, and their performances play off of each other very well.

Parya Heravi
Photo by Dahlia Katz

It’s fabulous that they’re performing this play in both languages, and while the Persian performances are more scarce, there are still a few left in the run. Earworm is intriguing and powerful, and considering how the play has changed from its initial inception until now, I’m looking forward to seeing what it could become in the future.

Review: ‘Earworm’ digs into the skin at Crow’s Theatre

Love rather than hate at centre of tale of surviving Iranian regime abuse, new beginnings

What: Earworm
Where: Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Ave.
When: Now, until Sun., Feb. 25
Highlight: Visual acts of care between loved ones, beautifully blocked by intimacy director Anisa Tejpar
Rating: NNN (out of 5)
Why you should go: Award-winning director-playwright Mohammad Yaghoubi executes a compelling political message against the Islamic regime in Iran.


HAVE YOU EVER had someone’s voice stuck in your head? A voice that eats away at your skin, nerves, muscles and bone until it’s the only thing you can think about? How about for 20 years? That is the reality for Homa, an immigrant from Iran who’s fled persecution from the Islamic regime, in award-winning playwright/director Mohammad Yaghoubi’s Earworm.

Lights up. We meet Homa (Aida Keykhaii) and her son Pendar (Amir Maghami) in Canada as she reluctantly prepares to meet Pendar’s conservative Muslim girlfriend, Fatemeh (Parya Heravi), and her father, Mohammad (Amir Zavos).

The play chronicles the days leading up to the families’ meeting, interlaced with episodes from Homa’s political and personal podcasts. When Homa’s Iranian past collides with her life in Canada, parental bonds, religion and personal politics are challenged.

Homa’s podcast episodes are addressed directly to the audience. We get insight into her psyche and personal politics. She addresses the audience with a sermon-like confidence and political charm as she recounts her time in Iran through her first period, her rejection of hijab decorum and her thoughts on her son’s blossoming relationship.

Her podcasts are interlaced with projections in the background of actual people and places, both amusing and poignant, in combination with her words. Keykhaii is compelling as Homa and plays her with equal parts vulnerability and strength. As an audience member, I begin to feel nervous for her safety — even though she is in the safety of her Canadian home — when she speaks openly about her hatred of the Iranian military.

Crow’s Studio holds Homa and Pendar’s home in Act I, with the audience sitting around the stage in an L shape, which is blocked in an effective way by director Yaghoubi as a lived-in family space. The set by Amin Shirazi colours in the mother-son dynamics, the messy and vibrant apartment reflecting their relationship. It provides a slick contrast to the set in Act II, which takes place in Fatemeh’s apartment, with furniture that is purposefully white and slightly devoid of life, reflecting the unsettling tone of the family dinner.

Performances, though all emotionally charged and invested, sometimes varied in terms of believability, bordering on a soap opera style. This might have worked with the somewhat Brechtian approach of this piece of political theatre. But actors fluctuated in and out of more grounded naturalism and slightly over-the-top emotional portrayals that feel a little imbalanced rather than intentional. This is not a fatal flaw though, as performances in the tension-filled Act II dinner scene were engrossing — Zavos especially gives a grounded and gritty performance.

One of the most special things about Earworm is how Yaghoubi handles love versus hate on stage. There is plenty of kissing and hugging and loving — visual acts of love and care between family and lovers — beautifully blocked by intimacy director Anisa Tejpar. Heravi’s does a lovely job of portraying Fatemeh’s tender love and care for Pendar. But there is no actual staged violence in this show: a clear message from this playwright and director to focus on love rather than give voice to violence.

Earworm is being performed both in English and Farsi, and I was lucky enough to attend the opening night in Farsi with English subtitles playing on a small screen on the wall above the actors. It was so lovely to be able to hear this piece in its original syllabic melodies — how it was born in the playwright’s head.

Earworm is beautifully nuanced. Yaghoubi manages to send a political message about taking power away from the Islamic regime while telling a compelling story of parenting, immigration, trauma and love.

Review: EARWORM

by LYNN on FEBRUARY 18, 2024

in THE PASSIONATE PLAYGOER

Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto. A Nowadays Theatre Production in association with Crow’s Theatre.  Playing until March 3, 2024.

www.crowstheatre.com

Written and directed by Mohammad Yaghoubi

 Set by Amin Shirazi

Lighting by David DeGrow

Sound by Sina Shoaie

Photographer and videographer, Ali Mostolizadeh

Cast: Parya Heravi

Aida Keykhaii

Amir Maghami

Amir Zavosh

Mohammad Yaghoubi illuminates life in Iran and Canada from the point of view of Homa who embraces her freedom in Canada to express herself.

The Story. Homa is a stylish woman who emigrated from Iran to Canada. We get the sense from what she says that she found Iran oppressive to women and free speech. She revels in her life in Canada. She produces a podcast in which she muses on politics, ethics, freedom of speech etc.

Her adult son, Pendar lives with her but there is a complication. Pendar has a girlfriend, Fatemeh, who has a pet dog.

Fatemeh’s father is visiting from Iran and is strict about his culture and religion and feels the dog is unclean.  So the dog is living with Homa and Pendar, temporarily. Homa is not happy about this since she walks the dog, but she wants to do right for her son.

Fatemeh invites Homa and Pendar for a meal to meet her father. Homa and Pendar spend some time discussing what she should wear. Homa knows that Fatemeh’s father will want her to wear the hijab and she objects to Pendar, but eventually reaches a compromise after much discussion. When Homa is at Fatemeh’s place, her father doesn’t look at Homa because she is a woman. But Homa looks at him and thinks there is something familiar about him. And so a mystery is established about the father. The play explores that and lots of other ideas.

The Production.  Writer-director Mohammad Yaghoubi is from Iran and came to Canada in 2015. I’ve been lucky to see his earlier plays: Winter of 88 and Heart of a Dog. Those plays reflected life in Iran. With Earworm he has opened up his focus to include life in Canada and Iran and thus broaden his audience reach. Earworm has some performances in Farsi with English surtitles, and most other performances are in English with the occasional Farsi translation. The audience is never disadvantaged by not knowing what is being said or read. Mohammad Yaghoubi takes care of his audiences. Scenes are titled and the name is projected in English and Farsi on the screened back wall of Amin Shirazi’s stylish set.

In fact, Mohammad Yagoubi wanted to open up his play to include a broader audience and not just Iranians, so all audiences are welcome to experience a voice who writes about a world we might not be familiar with.

The first Act has a lot of banter between Homa, beautifully played by Aida Keykhaii (Fertility Slippers, Heart of a Dog, Winter of 88 and Swim Team, this last as a director) and Pendar (Amir Maghami) who is always fiddling with his cell phone. He is devoted to his girlfriend Fatemeh (Parya Heravi)—they are always texting.

We also find out that Homa is invited with Pendar to Fatemeh’s apartment for dinner to meet her father. This will be tricky. Homa is a modern woman who dresses like she pleases. She knows that Fatemeh’s father is traditional in his ways and how he expects women to dress, i.e. to wear the hijab. She decides on a compromise but getting there is rather funny.

Homa is a take charge woman. She is proud of her uncompromising podcasts and the people who write her, usually from Iran, are grateful for her honesty.

At times Homa directly addresses the audience for comment. Homa believes that in Canada she can express her opinion and not lose her job. She asks the audience what they think. We have seen a lot of upheaval in our world of late, so the spread of opinions is interesting.

Act II is takes place in Fatemeh’s apartment where we meet her father, Mohammad, played by Amir Zavosh, who is quiet speaking and hardly looks at Homa because she is a woman. Homa stares at him with a puzzled look on her face. Aida Keykhaii as Homa is watchful, perhaps a bit agitated. He seems familiar but she can’t place him until she does.

Earworm has echoes in it of Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman’s Chilean drama about a man who brings home a good Samaritan one night who helped him when his car breaks down. The man’s wife hears them come in and recognizes the Samaritan’s voice, which conjures all sorts of memories for her, all terrible.

Playwright Mohammad Yaghoubi shines a light on Iran, its rigidity in how differently women are treated from men. The culture is rich and that’s illuminated too. In Earworm we also see the very dark side of what Homa left behind when she came to Canada and that is revealed slowly but relentlessly.

And in a truly theatrical turn, Mohammad Yaghoubi provides two endings to the play, and when you see the play, you see why. I thought that was fascinating. He makes one look at theatre in a different light and perspective rather than what we think a play should be and how it should be structured.

I love being unbalanced by a gifted playwright and director—and in this instance I didn’t mind that Mohammad Yaghoubi is both the writer and director here because he pulls it off beautifully.

A Nowadays Theate Production in association with Crow’s Theatre presents:

Plays until March 3, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours (1 intermission)

Audience feedback on social media

This was an amazing performance and so important during this divisive and extremely challenging time. Bravo to all involved and I commend you on your courage for sharing this. I stand in solidarity with you and hope many more people see your production and open their eyes.

https://www.instagram.com/p/C3NermsLB4U/

Juan Pablo de Dovitiis
@TheGenji

Went to see “Earworm” yesterday at@crowstheatre. I doubt I’ll see a better play this year. The writing & acting were incredible. Absolute gem that touches on Canada, immigrant experience, Iran, free expression, religion. See it before it ends its run Feb 25. @Yaghoubee

Leslie Lapides: Really teared up over “Earworm” yesterday — so poignant and heartbreaking and infuriating.
And a fantastic script and cast, especially with the curveballs of 2 different sections, based on audience vote.
You are all just amazing.



Earworm at Crow’s co-pro with Nowadays Theatre
– touching and heartbreaking play about an Iranian woman making a new life in Canada. Reels you in with the sweet comedy of her relationship with her son, has some real gutpunching moments, but ultimately uplifting. Run just got extended, for good reason.

Tony Nardi: Loved the play, as you know, and Aida’s performance. Looking forward to seeing it again in Persian. I wish you both a very long life with it.
Historically, non-English and non-French theatre practitioners have faced the problem of depicting the trials and tribulations of their own community’s (Canadian) immigrant experience, while at the same time being cautious not to criticize their own cultural group ‘too much’ for fear that ingroup criticism would only increase ‘mainstream’ hatred against their own culture-specific community. The trend has been to emphasize one lived experience (or tort) while underplaying the other. The wonderful thing about your play is that it confronts ingroup conflict (between old-world and new-world values) and its potential consequences head-on. Huge congrats!
Last night I saw Earworm at Crow’s Theatre. Mohammad Yaghoubi has written an intelligent, funny and tragic play and Aida Keykhaii is amazing. It has been extended by another week so you have a chance to see it this weekend and next week.
1 reply
  1. Leslie Lapides says:

    Really teared up over “Earworm” yesterday — so poignant and heartbreaking and infuriating.
    And a fantastic script and cast, especially with the curveballs of 2 different sections, based on audience vote.
    You are all just amazing.

    Reply

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