Winter of 88, presented by Nowadays Theatre for the 2020 Next Stage Festival, invites us into the experience of a family huddled in a Tehran apartment during the Iran-Iraq war. Writer/Director Mohammad Yaghoubi offers up characters we can’t help but love and shows us their disarmingly banal, relatable squabbles. Then, without warning, he drops brutal reminders of the violence erupting around them.
The family has just moved all of their worldly possessions into a new apartment. Boxes are strewn about haphazardly and we open on a brother and sister bickering over ownership of a prized bedroom. The play takes its time to immerse you in the grit of such familiar domestic scenes. And as they unfold, we can examine the generational rifts and cultural expectations that they reveal.
Just as you relax into their endearing family drama—a bomb suddenly goes off! And you find yourself, momentarily, as terrified as the characters. A beautiful, painful truth is laid bare here: life—in all it’s nasty, sweet and frustrating aspects—seems so precious when you are forced to acknowledge how quickly it can be lost.
But Yaghoubi isn’t interested in simply documenting a family’s harrowing war-time experience. He’s also concerned with the act of remembering trauma, the process of translating it into artistic expression, and bringing the two together in conversation. Here, the action of the play is frequently halted by a voiceover—the playwright and his wife discussing (in Farsi with English subtitles) the events of their past and his play’s treatment of them. After their discussion, a portion of a scene will often be replayed with some small yet significant revision. These changes can be amusing or touching, but there is always a sense of mining for—not reality, exactly, but—an essential truth.
This is my second encounter with Yaghoubi’s work. The first was a year ago, when I reviewed a production of his The Only Possible Way. I was struck by his restrained and elegant handling of meta-theatrical constructs, as well as his sincere emotionality. That play framed the drama as an obscure Iranian playwright’s body of work, contextualizing each scene with a running commentary of the artist’s intentions and their cultural significance. In both plays, Yaghoubi’s postmodern approach never feels like a gimmick; it is resonant and purposeful.
Every member of the cast (Aida Keykhaii, Parmida Vand, Jonathan Shaboo, Armon Ghaenizadeh, Amir Zavosh, and Sarah Marchand) finds the subtle, telling details that capture the humanity of their character. Also, Yaghoubi reveals great faith in his story’s emotional weight and the audience’s investment with his restrained yet powerful final moment.