On the evening of September 26, the lobby of The Flicks was packed with people clutching programs for a staged reading of an Armenian comedy called Be Nice, I'm Dead. Recognizing neither the form nor anything about the play, I went on faith--and a conversation I had earlier that day with the play's director, Farideh Fardjam.
To say that Fardjam is a dynamo would be an understatement. Her bio is peppered with the stuff of legend35 years of prize-winning writing and directing, degrees from some of the most esteemed film and acting schools in the world and credits in acclaimed television and big screen productions. When we met for lunch, I saw a driven artist whose purpose in life is to create and share her vision in as many languages as possible.
Growing up in Tehran and Paris, Fardjam remembers her mother encouraging her to channel her creative energy into the arts. At the age of 10, she was already avidly writing poetry and performing plays with neighborhood children.
"On summer afternoons in a state of siesta, I gathered my brothers and little sister and cousins and put on shows. This was my joy as a child when we could have done any other thing, and I was very serious about it," she chuckled. "Now I take my work seriously--not myself."
Coming into her own as a chameleon of stage, page and screen took Fardjam all over the world and into the company of great mentors like Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, Jack Garfein and Warren Robertson. Already considered the first female Iranian playwright and an international prize-winning children's book author in her early twenties, she applied to the prestigious Amsterdam Film and Television Academy. The entrance exam was a rigorous, four-day process, and only 35 people were accepted out of thousands of hopefuls. Fardjam was one of them. She was also one of 18 who graduated four years later.
"I was crazy--working my head off and having fun," she said.
After graduation, Fardjam worked in film and theater in Germany, France and Amsterdam, as well as New York and Hollywood at the Actor's Studio. Being in America reinforced her appreciation for the American playwrights she had discovered as a girl, and Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, Tony Kushner and Sam Shepard are still among her favorites.
"There is something very endearing and warm about American writers and playwrights. They are very human, very realistic, very life. There are human beings in American stories, and you recognize them," she said.
Fardjam later made a name and a home for herself in Holland, where she remained for many years before moving to Los Angeles to be near her children. She found an agent and began exploring the world of Hollywood filmmaking at Paramount and Concorde New Horizon in the special effects, production design and script supervising departments. "My deal was that whatever I was doing, I had to be on the set. I wanted to know what was happening in other departments and worked until my agent said, 'That's it. You've seen it all,'" she said.
Missing her home in Amsterdam, Fardjam began commuting from L.A. and a few years later moved her stateside base to a more intimate, welcoming city--Boise.
"The first time I saw Boise, I thought it was beautiful, absolutely breathtaking," she said. "Later, I found out that the people were wonderful, too. The rhythm of their walking is so peaceful ... and everyone I met was helpful--why? They didn't know me, had never seen my work, but they were nice, open and wanted to help."
Making a permanent home here in 2004, Fardjam taught film classes at Boise State University. Then she directed Yasmina Reza's Unexpected Man at Boise Contemporary Theatre, and the reaction of the public encouraged her to pursue riskier endeavors.
"The audience seemed very intelligent, very involved and warm, and after all, I am not a woman who sits and waits until the work is offered to her. You have to go find a job. This is life, and I love the challenge," Fardjam said.
Fardjam's latest challenge has been a series of staged readings of plays by writers from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, two of which have already met with great approval from the public. The first was Be Nice, I'm Dead by Armenian author Aramashot Babayan, which demonstrated Fardjam's skill with direction as there was no set or costumes to speak of and very little action. If someone had described this to me, I probably would have passed on the performance, but from start to finish, the script and acting kept the audience laughing, crying and reflecting. The theme was as simple as the stage, but there was infinite complexity in the actors' delivery and the balance of humor and melancholy, personal and universal themes, foreign and familiar culture.
The last in the series, The Bear and the Bandit by Azerbaijanian playwright Mirza Fath 'Ali Akhundzadeh, is a Moliere-style comedy that paints a vivid picture of feudal society in 19th century Russia, satirizing superstition, hypocrisy, fanaticism and despotism. Like Be Nice, I'm Dead and Love, it will be presented as a staged reading, but the only artistic element will be the actors themselves. By using this form, Fardjam hopes to convey the desolation of peasant life in ancient Azerbaijan and welcome the audience into the humanity of the characters in a way that extravagantly staged plays never could. This method lets the imagination fill in the blanks as stimulation comes directly from the words and the voices and faces of those speaking them.
All in all, it took Fardjam five months to research the three works, obtain rights to perform them, find the casts, nail down a venue and rehearse on her own schedule. She is risking a lot producing her own shows, but if you ask her if the time and money and toil were worth it, she'll declare, "absolutely. I love this work because it's an adventure. My soul needs it, and there is no time to be worried or scared," she said.
The Bear and the Bandit promises to be a seamless combination of sharp writing, skillful acting and, of course, strong direction. Fardjam sees her role in it as medium between the life of the play and the translation of that life through all other elements.
"I see the totality of the rhythm and the totality of the images that communicate with the public. In the end, the performance should be like good food," she said, taking a bite of dessert. "I don't know how the chef made this sauce, but it's great." After seeing her deeply moving, highly entertaining artful work under the hot stage lights, I am tempted to ask for the recipe.
The Bear and the Bandit plays one night only, Mon., Oct. 24, 7 p.m., $15, The Flicks, 646 Fulton St., 342-4222.