These two plays are about Middle Eastern characters. Is that your typical job?
The family movie I just finished is about Iranians in Southern California. Everything else was set up in Iran. What if I showed up with a play about three white girls? Does anyone want to do that? Even if it’s really good? Sometimes I worry that I’m not the right kind of Middle Easterner. When Islam forbids [Donald J. Trump’s 2017 executive order that at first barred nationals from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering America] was issued, I feel a change. Middle Eastern artists have been knocking on doors for a long time. People are finally starting to listen.
So are you worried about being dove?
If all I ever made was my stories about Middle Eastern people, I don’t think I would be upset. But there’s always the anxiety that I’ll be in the black spot for a season. It’s starting to feel a little uncomfortable. I didn’t know I would stop writing about Middle Eastern people until I felt it wasn’t special. It feels special right now to have – especially in “Wish You Were Here” – these Iranian girls on stage. It’s a little bit about the politics, but it’s mostly about them trying not to sit on the couch. Maybe that won’t be special in 30 years, and that’s fine.
You said that “Wish You Were Here” was for your mother. Who is “English” for?
“English” is for me. I had to write it. I wrote it as my thesis. I was really angry that year. After the travel ban, I went blank with it for two years, and I wrote “English” because I was angry at the anti-immigrant rhetoric. I just want to scream into the void a little bit. Learning another language is a huge thing, a huge thing if you give up the ability to fully express yourself, even if you have full access to the language.
I am about to graduate. I wanted to be a writer, and that probably stemmed from my own insecurity that I would never really be able to say what I wanted.
Does it make sense to recommend these plays to a predominantly white, mostly American audience?
The answers that made the most sense to me were the first generation Middle Eastern kids who came to see “English”. I felt like they were completely in it with me. Our white audience, it’s hard. There are laughs that sometimes I don’t think there should be laughter. The highlight gets the laugh. And it’s really annoying on some nights. I think the play takes care of it in a way. The pain was so real at the end of the play that I don’t think anyone laughed. But that’s not easy.
Why did you write these plays into comedies?
I am not a political writer. I am not a popular intellectual. At my core, I’m a cheap laugh. I will launch myself out of this stall to make you laugh.
Both “English” and “Wish You Were Here” are sad. “Wish You Were Here” is clearly sadder. But writing a traumatic play makes me want to catch my breath. I just thought it was very flat. It doesn’t help people see us as three-dimensional. I just can’t do that. And I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think that’s how life works.
Politics enters the room, and you’re still trying to make your best friend laugh, or you’re still upset about missing your period in the chair – it all happens in an instant. Do people think that Middle Eastern women are huddled under a chador, like lamenting our oppression? The pain looks different than we think and the joy is always there. Kindness is always there. Had a lot of laughs through it.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/17/theater/sanaz-toossi-english-wish-you-were-here.html ‘Writing a trauma play makes me want to dry a bunch’