Persian women embrace main character energy in “Parifam”

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      The Iranian-Canadian theatre scene in Vancouver isn’t huge. And yet, the stars of Parifam—Foojan Nixie Shabrang and Nazanin Shoja—had somehow never worked together before. 

      The duo met at a party, where they happened to hear about Parifam auditions being open. At the time, Shabrang wasn’t sure she would even throw her hat into the ring, and was just there to support the project. 

      “I flat-out rejected even auditioning, because I have a day job that I love,” she shares over video. But some friends involved in the production persuaded her to try out, which led to her taking on the title role for the play’s premiere theatrical run. “I was like, ‘Oh shit, I’ve gotta figure this out,’” she recalls. “Which had me working 85-hour weeks—but I’m so happy and fulfilled.” 

      Parifam follows the eponymous Parifam Mana (Shabrang), an artist in Montreal, who finds her past colliding with the present when her old friend Ramak (Shoja) re-appears in her life for the first time in decades. The play previously had a reading at the Ruby Slippers Advance Theatre Festival in 2023, but this incarnation at the Historic Theatre—mounted as part of The Cultch’s Femme Fest—is the official world premiere.

      Penned by Canadian-Iranian playwright Aki Yaghoubi and directed by Panthea Vatandoost (Medusa Theatre Society’s artistic director), it’s the first major production in Vancouver that has Persian women in every core role. 

      The two leads act as foils of each other, with different relationships to both their Persian heritage, as well as to a traumatic event in their past that binds them together. 

      “Ramak is someone who’s very, very proud of her Iranian culture and wants to share that with the world,” Shoja says. “She wants to really showcase the community and try and fight against all the negative stereotypes about Iranians and Iranian culture—so she is very controlling in some ways as a result.”

      Meanwhile, Parifam is more willing to deal with the bad stuff—confronting issues head-on, even if she doesn’t get the kind of results she wants. 

      “She has this incisiveness about how necessary [dealing with trauma] is, and how it will be ultimately better for everyone, even though it might be messy,” Shabrang explains. “Ramak is content to let the foundation rot as long as the house itself looks good; Parifam is more like, ‘We need to fix the foundation, and it doesn’t matter for the time being if the house needs to come down.’” 

      The play’s narrative is laden with intrigue and mystery, as the childhood friends have to work through their differences while collaborating on an exhibition about Persian culture. There are dark themes at play, but the production is filled with such deft and heart that it never gets overwhelming.

      Parifam and Ramak are deep and layered—a depressing rarity for racialized women characters—and their differing perspectives on their background has helped the actors to really think more deeply about their own culture.

      “There’s this complexity with being Iranian. We’re both simultaneously ashamed and really proud of our culture,” Shabrang explains. “We might talk about it with other Iranians, but I realized I’ve never talked about it to my friends and coworkers … It’s something that’s been cracked open for me in this process.”

      Most telling of all, though, is the warmth with which the women talk about the play. Premiering anything is hard work; and yet, the production has hit a special sweet spot. Parifam might be about reconciling with trauma, but it’s been an absolute blast.

      “This truly is such a privilege. I’ve never had this much fun. I’ve never had a character so complex to play,” Shabrang enthuses. “I need to take advantage and enjoy this, and milk it to its last drop, because it’s not an opportunity that comes along very often.” 


      When: April 4 to 14

      Where: Historic Theatre (1895 Venables Street, Vancouver)

      Admission: From $29, available here