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Iranian Comedy: Lots of Talk, No Pratfalls : Theater: Two works in Farsi at the Irvine Barclay will flavor the laughs with a strong dose of reality.

July 08, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Comedy is coming to the Irvine Barclay Theatre tonight and next week. Iranian comedy.

But seriously, folks . . .

"I go to comedy clubs, and watch stand-up comedians on (American) television, and I often see people laughing for no reason at all," said Ali Fakhredin, writer, director and a star of "A Man in His Dreams," a play billed as a "dark musical comedy." It will be presented by the Persian Society on July 17.

"I see good material sometimes, but most of the time the guy is using dirty language as if nothing could (make people) laugh better than this.

"I cannot even use one single dirty word because that would be the end of my career," said Fakhredin, who has been in the U.S. since 1977. Iranian audiences, he said, "would kick me out. I would get beat up by eggs or a tomato. . . . Supposedly I'm on the stage doing comedy. If you see Eddie Murphy, 75% (of his show) I would never let my daughter or child watch that program."

According to Fakhredin, who has appeared in a number of Iranian and American TV programs, often under the stage name Ali Dean, there are more than 2 million Iranians in the United States and 500,000 on the West Coast. Many are in self-imposed exile.

"My people need laughing matter; they are very upset and depressed," Fakhredin said. "If I portray a chiropractor practicing in L.A., I make fun, but in the right way--not by giving my character lots of bad words. They want something pure, they want reality with their humor. That is the difference between Western and Eastern humor."

"A Man in His Dreams" will be performed in Farsi, as will tonight's offering, the Nosrat Vahdat Group's play "The Puzzle." The proximity of two Persian plays on the Barclay schedule is coincidental.

"Comedians here often make people laugh with the way they fall down or the way they act or make faces," said Sam Vahdat, co-producer of "The Puzzle." "In Persian comedy, they make people laugh with talking."

Vahdat should know. He has spent a great deal of time with the star of "The Puzzle," once one of Iran's premiere actor-comedians.

"I'm not saying this (only) because he's my father--he's (been) called 'the Bob Hope of Iran,' " Vahdat said.

He said Nosrat Vahdat, 71, began acting when he 16, and was invited to work at Tehran's biggest theater when he was 30. He made 45 motion pictures, producing and directing all of them. He continued at the theater for a year after the 1979 revolution in which the shah was deposed, but when war broke out with Iraq, he felt performing was too dangerous, and he stopped.

*

The elder Vahdat came to the States recently to visit his son.

"I moved here 20 years ago and didn't see my father until he came to see me nine months ago," said Sam Vahdat. (The Iranian government wouldn't let Nosrat leave the country, and Sam, a U.S. citizen, would have been pressed into military service had he returned to Iran to visit. Since the government approved Nosrat Vahdat's U.S. visit last year, he has been staying with his son in West Los Angeles.)

"Every time we walk in the street," Sam Vahdat said, "Iranians see him, stop him, talk to him, and say, 'When are we going to see you perform?' " Nosrat Vahdat took that as his cue to form a theater troupe here.

"He trained some amateur actors here--really amateur--for 3 1/2 months before he felt they could go on," Vahdat explained. "He wrote 'The Puzzle,' and we've been showing it all over the United States and Canada. It goes to London in August, then (my father) returns to Iran."

The story line of "The Puzzle," about a businessman and his young wife, is simple: The woman lies to her husband, creating a number of problems, and asks the manager of the businessman's company, played by Vahdat, to cover her lies.

"The message is that couples must be honest with each other," said Sam Vahdat. "Nothing political, nothing complicated. All of my father's movies and plays, the families go with the kids and they laugh for two hours."

Fakhredin's "The Man in His Dreams" is more complex. It opens with stand-up comedy focusing on how the Iranian community in the United States relates to the people, culture and language here.

"In the first act, I do all the different characters, with singing and dancing," Fakhredin said. "In the second act, there are two characters. One is an Iranian reporter working for CNN wanting to interview the other character, (an official in the Ayatollah Khomeini's government) who is arriving at Orange County airport.

"The second character, Hajagha Meir Anarake, might be a minister of defense or prime minister. Haji doesn't understand English, so he takes everything the wrong way."

*

Fakhredin believes that of all Western playwrights, Iranians hold 17th-Century French dramatist Moliere in the highest esteem.

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