The Death of the King by Iranian playwright Bhram Beyzaie plays Toronto’s Theatre Centre
I had the chance to see The Death of The King by Iranian playwright Bahram Beyzaie last night. Co-produced by The Theatre Centre and Modern Times Stage Company, it tells the story of an impoverished family accused of treason and the killing of their King.
The show’s description talks about exploring the vulnerabilities of people in the most difficult of circumstances. I, unfortunately, had a very difficult time grasping most aspects of the show.
It wasn’t all bad, and I’ll start there. What most impressed me about this show was the cast. I found the performances very solid: Jani Lauzon‘s great dramatic range was a joy to behold; and the lesser-seen Colin Doyle (whom I also enjoyed watching in Monday Nights) provided some occasional comic relief.
While the two actors mentioned above truly stood out to me, I also really enjoyed the rest of the cast. Their timing – with lighting, and sound cues in particular – and how they played off of each other was excellent.
Another enjoyable aspect was the comedic element to the story. While it almost felt out of place (my companion, Caryhn, called it “a bit campy”) amidst the seriousness, it definitely broke up what I found to be a fairly disjointed, tedious, and somewhat boring show.
There were enough physical outbursts – and indeed, the physicality on display was VERY impressive – to keep my attention coming back, but I found it very difficult to follow what was happening. Several characters kept switching back and forth between their voices and the King’s, and I found it confusing at times.
I’m not sure if these moments were intended as flashbacks or re-enactments (or something else) but I found it incredibly odd that the sword-wielding executioners were taking these “King’s voice” segments as fact. I think? Caryhn and I were both very confused about those parts.
We were also both slightly irritated by the language. While the show had a distinct Medieval Europe flavour to it, the language was neither medieval nor modern. It was mostly understandable, but we both felt it would have had more impact if the writer had committed either way: old or modern, rather than the strange hybrid with the strange, unplaceable accents. But I am an “accent snob” so that may also be my bias speaking.
While the performances – and physicality – were impressive, some of it felt way over the top and unnatural: random outbursts of words without apparent meaning or context (to me, at least); and many instances of actors jumping, falling, squatting and assuming those poses for extended periods of time that felt really forced and tiring to watch.
By the end, Caryhn and I were both at a loss as to finding any deeper meaning or themes. A lot of references – mostly religious, some Christian – flew over our heads. We also both got the sense that there were important symbols, or history, that we simply don’t know about.
There were also parts – the tension between the family members, their back stories, the mother’s apparent sex work – that I would have loved to learn more about. Setting the scene somehow would have been immensely helpful.
This play was written after the Iranian revolution – a subject I know fairly little about. I wonder if a primer on that subject would be helpful in understanding this story? Most in attendance seemed overjoyed by the end of the show. A few jumped up and cheered. I definitely feel as though some important themes completely eluded me.
If you end up seeing the show, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo of Bahareh Yaraghi and Jani Lauzon provided by the company