*THE DAUGHTERS OF SHEHERZAD, conceived and directed by Soheil Parsa, with Beatriz Pizano, Michelle Polak, Yashoda Ranganathan, Gail Roberts and Dragana Varagic. Presented by Modern Times Stage Company in association with Artword Theatre (75 Portland). Runs to November 5, Tuesday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday matinee 2:30 pm. $10-$20, stu/srs/underemployed $8-$18, Sunday pwyc. 408-2783. Rating: NNNN
Five imprisoned women rediscover their own identities as they search the asylum walls for stories of their historic sisters in The Daughters Of Sheherzad. The result is a powerful piece of feminist theatre whose key elements are magnetic physical performers, an upsetting yet enthralling narrative and a skilled director who orchestrates all the dramatic elements.
Soheil Parsa's production plunges the audience into a mythic madhouse that its quintet of inmates also term a playhouse -- and for good reason. Acting out the tales of their predecessors, scrawled on the walls, they find solace and ultimately the strength to transcend their dank home.
Central to the show are two stories, that of a Jewish girl fleeing the Nazis who finds herself in a Romanian whorehouse, and of Tahera, a 19th-century Persian woman condemned for preaching heretical views and for stepping outside the traditional female role.
Vivid stories Parsa intersperses the vivid stories with games the women play to maintain their sanity and recall their past, and the creative company -- who along with choreographer Norma Araiza assist in fleshing out the director's text -- provide some astounding episodes.
Michelle Polak as the Jewish girl, Yashoda Ranganathan as Tahera, Dragana Varagic as a woman initially unable to take revenge on an abusive partner and Beatriz Pizano's Carmen-influenced hispanic inmate are in turn equally hypnotic. Only Gail Roberts as a parental figure often seems to be acting rather than feeling.
The actors are wonderfully assisted by Richard Feren's sound design, based on echoing prison noises of dripping water and wailing winds, and Stephan Droege's highly theatrical lighting and jigsaw-puzzle design, which forces the five women to piece together their strengths.