It’s hard to believe that a single painting can inspire a touching tale driven by irreverence and displacement. Tara Grammy, however, is living proof that is does happen.
Her new solo project, Mahmoud, hones in on three characters relying on a middle aged cab driver from The Middle East to tighten the story threads. The idea is one she’s held onto since her college days when the actor viewed of a painting called ‘Dance of the Red Skirts’ and immediately saw a parallel to her native Iran.
Add in detailed conversations with real life cab drivers, overseas travel, and personal childhood experiences, and a bona fide performance piece steeped with comedy took shape.
Tara Grammy keeps the meter running to talk about process and passion in an exclusive conversation with TorontoStage.com.
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Your newest project, Mahmoud, means different things to different people. Why did you feel that this story needed to be told?
We’ve all heard about the taxi drivers, janitors, window washers who were doctors and lawyers and engineers in their own countries, but showing a specific experience such as Mahmoud’s through a narrative form such as theatre, brings it to life. Being shown a story is so much more powerful than just being told one.
One of the most intriguing scenes in the play is when the character, Tara, finds a way to get the cab driver to disclose his origins.
That’s definitely a turning point for Mahmoud. He starts off as the stereotypical immigrant who idolizes the motherland. He wants to paint a picture of Iran and himself for the audience. This is exuberant and regal and not what it seems in terms the Iran portrayed in the media.
But all that changes when he meets Tara who encourages him to go back to Iran, and coaxes his true life story out of him. There is definitely a shift in Mahmoud from this moment on.
Playgoers get a strong impression that this is story about not fitting in, should they?
The core of the play really is interwoven stories of Mahmoud the taxi driver, Emanuelos the lovesick Spanish gay salesperson, and Tara the dramatic 12 year old and later adult.
But does touch deeply on their experiences being outsiders in a city of outsiders. And dealing with different aspects of what it means to be Iranian outside of Iran.
Your comedy, powered by a 56-year old taxi driver from Tehran, suggests the character is anything but one dimensional. What was important to you when creating him?
He is a great husband who loves his wife, Marjan, more than anything, and is a very proud Iranian who takes it upon himself to educate the people who come in his cab about the way Iran really is.
I can’t say that I drew this character, he’s kind of always lived inside of me. He is the other generation of immigrants, those who restarted their lives here and told my generation of immigrants—the ones who started life here—all about where they came from.
If it wasn’t for these men and women, my homeland would be lost along with all its traditions and culture, in the melting pot. I think his resilience, courage, and big heart is what makes that connection with playgoers.
Those that have seen Tara Grammy on stage before have never witnessed you quite like this before. That must come with a certain amount of pressure, yes?
Well this is certainly the most personal thing I’ve ever done. I am risking more with sharing this story than I’ve ever risked before.
It’s difficult to share so much with an audience and to shift between fiction and reality constantly. Some things that I say in the how are actual recollections and it’s pretty terrifying to let people in on that.
There’s a superb musical moment in the show which you’ve compared to ‘a childhood dream come true.’ What’s the story behind this?When I was twelve years old, I wrote a song which I thought was the best pop song ever written. I desperately wanted to record, make a video, and perform it live.
It’s called “Games” and Tara, the character, gets to perform it along with amazing choreography. Hopefully there’ll be a big record producer in the audience who wants me to perform it with Justin Bieber.
How familiar are you with people in Mahmoud’s shoes—where the land of opportunity has turned out to be anything BUT a land of opportunity?
I’ve met a lot of people who’ve been disappointed with the way they’re dreams have panned out. But there is a reason why they stay and much to be said for their ability to make do with less than desirable circumstances.
I met a taxi driver who was a business man in his own country and didn’t have the credentials or the money to be the way he was back home. He became a taxi driver to make money and send his kids to school so they could achieve their dreams.
What will you do if traditional theatregoers can’t get see to this show because myriads of cabbies holding professional degrees from foreign lands have bought up all the tickets?
They can give me a call and I’ll come perform it for them in their living rooms. All I need is a chair, maybe a carpet!
But I do really hope that taxi drivers come see it. Well, I hope that everyone comes but taxi drivers in particular.
MAHMOUDby Tara Grammy * Mar. 4 – Mar 13, 2011 * Tarragon Theatre Extraspace 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto, ON * Tickets $20.00 – $25.00