Playwright: Novid Parsi
At: The Historic Chicago Temple Building, 77 W. Washington St. Tickets: SilkRoadRising.org; $35. Runs through: April 15
Too often, LGBTQ characters, characters of color and characters who are both are presented as the token stereotypical "best friend," the person who dies first or the inspirational feel-good story.
The tide is starting to turn a bit, but more complex representation needs to exist. Novid Parsi's Through the Elevated Line, a modern-day Streetcar Named Desire, has a gay Iranian man as its Blanche DuBois. And through the character of Razi Gol, beautifully crafted by Parsi and acted by Salar Ardebili, the theme of alienation in a new world is never more present.
In Parsi's take on Streetcar, Razi arrives in Chicago just as his sister Soraya ( the exquisite and gifted Catherine Dildilian ) returns from a Cubs game. Having been in the United States for many years, Soraya is studying to be a dermatologist and expecting a child with her South Side native husband Chuck ( Joshua J. Volkers ). His brash manner and dominant presence are a lot to handle for Razi, who's been imprisoned in Iran for being gay and often drinks to dilute his troubled memories. It doesn't help that all three are living in an Uptown two-flat that Chuck is flipping: when personal space is at a premium, tensions quickly rise.
If you're thinking that Razi, Soraya and Chuck are Blanche, Stella and Stanley, respectively, you are exactly right. Thanks to Parsi's layered, nuanced writing, the themes of the original Streetcar work fantastically well in a diverse contemporary setting. Razi and Soraya's relationship, though loving and loyal, is tough going. Not only have they been apart for a long time and lost both their parents, Soraya has become thoroughly Americanized and is unaware of the pain Razi has endured as a gay man in Iran. While Razi's heightened interactions with Chuck, and his budding romance with sweet Sean ( Philip Winston ) add suspense and depth, it is his and Soraya's ever-changing connection that is the cornerstone of Through the Elevated Line.
Director Carin Silkaitis' staging is a bit awkward at times, but easy to overlook in light of the play's many strengths. Silkaitis and the strong ensemble of actors bring out every distinction of even the most minor character. Scott Shimizu brings much needed comic relief as Chuck's friend Ben, who at one point clashes with Chuck about his own Japanese heritage, and even Volkers' performance, the picture of toxic masculinity, has some empathetic moments. Lindsey Lyddan's lighting design and Jeffrey Levin's sound mimic the train stop next to Chuck and Soraya's apartment with stunning accuracy, placing Through the Elevated Line squarely in the here and now. Tennessee Williams' story of displacement, depression and dealing with it all is timelier than ever.