Saffron & Rosewater

by | Feb 10, 2017 | What’s Happening

Persian Jewish women’s bittersweet songs and stories about their lost homeland of Iran
Sunday, Feb. 26 and Monday, Feb. 27, 7:30 pm, Old Dominion University’s Goode Theatre

The theater group, Saffron & Rosewater was founded in 2008 by Ronda Spinak in Los Angeles, a city that is home to a large community of Persian Jews, estimated between 30,000 and 50,000 members, and therefore often referred to as Tehrangeles.

Spivak has written several books and plays, worked in television, and co-founded the Jewish Women’s Theatre in Los Angeles. For the project, Saffron & Rosewater, she and Jessica Youseffi, her consultant and co-producer, reached out to writers, artists, and performers in the Los Angeles Persian- Jewish community and beyond to share their stories and memories. The response was overwhelming, enabling them to choose from a bounty of novels, memoirs, magazine essays, and newspaper articles, which they subsequently adapted to the stage.

The writers of the narratives, on which Saffron & Rosewater is based, include Gina Nahai, author of the bestseller Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith and a professor of creative writing at the University of Southern California; Angella Nazarian, author of Life as a Visitor and Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World, who is also a co-founder of Women A.R.E; Dora Levy Mossanen, bestselling author of four novels, including Harem, Courtesan, The Last Romanov and Scent of Butterflies; Esther Amini, a magazine journalist and psychotherapist on the faculty of the New York School for Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy; and last, but not least, Tidewater’s Farideh Goldin, author of the highly acclaimed Wedding Song: Memoirs of an Iranian Jewish Woman and Leaving Iran: Between Exile and Migration, who for many years was director of the Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding at Old Dominion University.

To stage their stories, Spivak assembled a stellar cast of seven artists with diverse creative and professional backgrounds. They include Sohaila Zivari, who is also a Rumi scholar, Niki Black, a songwriter, Gamal Palmer, an African American Jew, Roxana Rastegar, a dancer and photographer, Wendy Colman Levin, a PhD in public health and Lisa Circincione, a founding member of the Florence International Theater Company.

It is safe to say that these stories and their dramatic staging would be banned in today’s Iran.

Originally, the troupe performed in intimate settings in homes and backyards, religious sanctuaries and other cultural centers in and around Los Angeles, but soon the group began to tour far beyond Southern California. Since putting on its first show in Pacific Palisades in October 2008, the Jewish Women’s Theatre has performed for approximately 20,000 patrons across the U. S.

Saffron & Rosewater takes on Jewish female stereotypes including the spoiled Jewish American princess, the well-meaning but misguided meddler, the overbearing, guilt-inflicting Jewish mother, and last but not least, the archetypal roly-poly bubbie, the matriarchal Eastern European grandmother, who feels most at home in her beloved kitchen. They all come together in theatrical vignettes.

Farideh Goldin says, “I love reaching out to young Iranian women who don’t remember Iran. Traditionally, Iranian Jewish women were expected to be silent. Saffron & Rosewater helps set the record straight. A chance to hear our voices loud and clear in public.”

The producers of Saffron & Rosewater maintain that their stories could also “apply to Anglicans, Adventists or atheists. Others peel back layers of the decidedly Jewish experience.” This layering of multiple meanings should not come as a surprise. After all, the Jews of Persia have garnered a unique fascination for millennia, beginning with Cyrus of Persia who was instrumental in ending the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people and allowed them to return to their ancestral homeland. The Purim story originated in Persia and, from the overthrow of the Shah of Persia in 1979 to the present day, the country of Iran continues to compel attention. And with the momentous beginning of a new American presidency and the political changes in the global relationships between East and West, Saffron & Rosewater’s dramatic vignettes about cultural differences and human commonalities are more topical than ever.

This production is a sponsored by Old Dominion University’s Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding and ODU Theatre/ODU Rep and the Jewish Women’s Theater of Los Angeles. Five of the original artists will perform under the artistic directorship of Ronda Spivak. Free parking is available in the parking garage behind the Marriott Hotel on Hampton Boulevard. Tickets are $15 at ODUARTSTIX.COM or at the box office of the Goode Theatre. For more information call 757-683-5305.