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Interview with Salar Abdoh, Part I.

I spoke with Salar twice in New York. He was soft-spoken and frank. The interview took place in the apartment where Reza used to live, not far from Times Square, on 11 June 1998.

MUFSON: I thought I would ask you about some of Reza’s biographical information, which I have no handle on at all. And a little bit about the importance of Iranian literature and performance traditions. Because I don’t really see the Iranian influence much. John Bell wrote an essay where he talked about the influence of Ta’ziyeh and talked about Háfiz and Rumi.

S. ABDOH: Well, I think you’re on the right track. I mean, Bell means well, but he’s wrong.

MUFSON: Brenden said that he remembered a couple of people coming to one of the performances and saying though that it was very Persian. But he didn’t remember exactly why they said that.

S. ABDOH: Even when he was alive people were talking about all the elements of Persian literature and all that. He didn’t dissuade people from thinking that way. Why should he? It just gave more dimensions to his work as an artist. I would’ve done the same thing. But to be honest with you, I wish I could say Persian literature or even Persian tradition have a lot of influence on his work, but that would be totally misleading. And I think people are reading things into his work that just didn’t exist. You know, I didn’t say anything about it. But a couple of at the memorial services elaborated on that aspect of it. But I knew him too well, and because I worked with him the past couple of years and stuff, and I knew his knowledge of Persian literature…. I got a degree in Persian literature. But Reza could hardly read Persian literature. He couldn’t read Háfiz. But he thought it would be a good idea, like any artist, it would be a good idea to be influenced by it.

MUFSON: What do you mean it would be a good idea?

S. ABDOH: Well, why not? If you’re a writer of drama, why not be influenced by Shakespeare? Why not be influenced by Rumi or Háfiz, you know? It just adds more layers, texture to your body of work. But I’ve always thought people, especially westerners, Americans, just unconsciously, they read these things into somebody’s body of work without realizing they do that. And one reason they don’t understand it…they’re doing it wrong I think, is because they don’t know Persian tradition at all. What do they know of Rumi, some translations? The translations of Rumi have nothing to do with the original. Not even one million-millionth of it. And I just always thought that whole aspect of reading into Reza’s work was bogus. Like after that particular memorial, I even thought about writing something about it because I wrote something for the memorial in LA. And I thought about adding something about that for future critics or whoever. But you know, you should be careful about reading too much into these things. But really I think people should be careful. Where are you reading all this stuff? Just because Reza brings a couple of Persian calligraphies in one of his plays and displays them? That’s means he’s been influenced by Háfiz? He hasn’t been influenced by Háfiz. He’s been influenced by Shakespeare more than anybody. He’s been influenced by Proust. He’s been influenced by Gertrude Stein. He’s been influenced by William Burroughs. Me and him, we didn’t agree on literature a lot. He loved William Burroughs and I hated him. But we both loved Shakespeare. It’s that he was much, much more influenced by the western tradition. Besides the classics of English literature, by America itself. Far, far more than anything Iranian. People just emphasized that aspect of him. Because they always do that with artists from other parts of the world. Just the thing to do. Why should he stand up and say “Oh, no, that’s not true.” Let them say what they want to say. I think John Bell’s always been wrong about that. I think whoever’s thought about that and written about it really didn’t understand that Reza was doing. Not that they didn’t understand what Reza was doing, they just didn’t know. How could they know? How could they know? It’s so easy to read things in retrospect into a body of work. It so easy to mistake it. But this is probably the first time somebody’s told you otherwise, I don’t know.

MUFSON: Well, I just don’t know that many other people who could comment on it. I know someone who’s Iranian, and she’s studying Iranian film at Columbia. I had her over to my place and she looked at Hip-Hop and The Blind Owl. And I asked her if she saw anything remotely related to what she was doing, and she didn’t. Although I have to say when I saw the Taste of Cherry, it reminded me a little bit of Blind Owl. But not in a way particularly Persian, I don’t think, but rather in the terms of the way it cut and drew attention to itself as a film. Did you see the movie?

S. ABDOH: Of course. Yes.

MUFSON: He had the same thing in Blind Owl where you actually see the filmset at the one segment.

S. ABDOH: For instance, here is a good example. You know, the title of The Blind Owl. Here’s another case of people reading into things, reading something into something that doesn’t exist. Blind Owl, as you may know, is the title of quite an awful Persian novel written around the mid-century which is taken to be on the caliber of the best modern Persian novel written, for some reason, among people. But anyway, Reza just took the name of The Blind Owl because he liked that title. It had nothing to do with that book. But people were always asking him “Oh, so you took it from that book.” And he didn’t. It was a good title to his ear. The same way when he did “Rusty Sat on a something-or-other.”

MUFSON: Rusty Sat on a Hill One Dawn and Watched the Moon Go Down.

S. ABDOH: One of the Persian actresses in that, she chose a Rumi poem in Persian and recited it. Does that mean Reza was influenced by Rumi? No. She just recited it because it felt like the right thing to do or an interesting thing to do at that particular point in the play. You know what I mean? That aspect of Reza’s work, it’s not that it’s nonexistent, but I think people, critics, people who write about this, they should really be more careful about reading too much into something.

MUFSON: I would like to know a little bit about the family and how much time you spent in Iran and how many kids there were.

S. ABDOH: It was three brothers and one sister. Reza and I were already in England when the revolution happened.

MUFSON: You were the two older?

S. ABDOH: I was the second. He was the oldest. Yeah. And then we came here and our mother was divorced. People seem to think our mother was Italian. I don’t know why, our mother is not Italian. You know, at the time of the hostage crisis, we were very young. I was about fifteen.

MUFSON: And he was… What’s the age difference?

S. ABDOH: Two years and ten months. He might have been seventeen. But there was a lot of anti-Iranian feeling. Especially in California where are so many Persians. So he just…he just tried to soften the image of the Iranian by saying our mother is Italian. Which I don’t know why he chose Italian. I mean our mother… You know, she grew up in Switzerland. Her first language is French. But he should’ve said French at least, you know. Why did he choose Italian, a language she can’t even speak? Later on, as the years wore on, I had people asking, “Oh, so your mother’s Italian? Ah, that’s great.” As if, you know, that would have made his work any more interesting because he had a European in his blood. Very strange. But anyway, so we came here with our father.

MUFSON: When was that?

S. ABDOH: That was like very early 1980. And then he died right away because basically he’d lost everything he had in Iran and he had a lot. Then from then on, we were on our own. It was a rough few years. Reza was going to USC at that time. He had just started USC in the literature department.

MUFSON: So you guys had no guardian.

S. ABDOH: No. We lived on the streets, basically. Not Reza, Reza had an apartment in West Hollywood.

MUFSON: What do you mean, you lived on the streets?

S. ABDOH: I lived on the streets. I didn’t have a place to stay, me and my younger brother. I was on my own since I was fifteen. I literally had nowhere to stay. I lived in abandoned houses. I had a very interesting life. And sometimes I stayed with Reza. But Reza had, from then on, he had to really labor to make it. He was ambitious. But he busted his butt to make it in the world of theater. He scrounged his way up.

MUFSON: Did he have a scholarship to USC?

S. ABDOH: Yeah. He was a very good student. He got a scholarship. He did all kinds of jobs.

MUFSON: Did he finish?

S. ABDOH: Yes, he did.

MUFSON: He did?

S. ABDOH: Yeah. He was a very, very well respected student. He was a poet before he was a playwright. When he fifteen , in England he published a book of poems. And nobody has seen it. I think Brenden didn’t even know about until I mentioned it about a year ago. You might see the seeds of his future work. He was barely fifteen when he published it. And there’s a picture of him on the back of the book. It’s called The Sound of a Poet Breathing in an Imprisoned Air. It’s a weighty poem, but he was only fifteen years old. He was a great poet. I always thought that he should have stuck to poetry. He was an incredible poet. He just stopped doing it from there. I lost contact with him for many years because I started roaming the country, and then I went to school at Berkeley. I would see him once in a while. It was only the last three or four years in New York, when we lived together with Brenden, that we saw a lot of each other and we worked on a couple of last plays. All his Los Angeles years are foreign to me. I’d just see him once in a while. I can’t help you much about what he did and how he got there.

MUFSON: You didn’t see the works that he did?

S. ABDOH: Oh, yeah, I did see the work. Not all of them, but a lot of them.

MUFSON: Another thing that gets said very often is that Bogeyman is a fairly autobiographical work.

S. ABDOH: I’m sure it’s autobiographical. But then again, every time I talk to Diane, she talks about “Oh, that’s your mother. That’s your father.” Ok. You know, whatever. Again, it’s reading too much into things. Yes. Okay, it is autobiographical, I guess. Something is either autobiographical or it isn’t. So I guess it was, I guess it is autobiographical. But to just say “Oh, that’s his cathartic crying out of the soul about his mother and father and family,” it’s a little too much. Okay? It’s autobiographical, but it’s only one aspect of the family. It’s not everything. He was a maker of images. He orchestrated emotions, feelings, sins. And he used many different pieces of his life and the world outside of him to do that. No one particular thing in any of his plays should take priority.

MUFSON: It does seem like the figure of the authoritarian father, the concern about the patriarchy and the oppressiveness of the patriarchy seemsthat does seem recurrent. Do you think that’s more of an intellectual concern?

S. ABDOH: No. I think Reza was a very strong character. If you met him, you would know he had an amazing command of himself and other people. And another person who was very much like that, even far more than Reza, was our father. He was a total man’s man, you know. Boxed. Ex-boxer. Macho. Really big. Always fighting people and beating them up. Even into his fifties. I mean the guy was machismo incarnate. And Reza was his eldest son who was gay, you know.

MUFSON: So your father knew that before he died?

S. ABDOH: I think he found out just before he died. Even if he didn’t suspect it, Reza did not satisfy any ideas he had about how the oldest son should be. So there was a lot of tension between them. There was a lot. That was definitely a love/hate relationship.

MUFSON: But the father allowed Reza to go off to England at a fairly early age.

S. ABDOH: Well, to go to boarding school.

MUFSON: From the National Youth Theater?

S. ABDOH: It was never that.

MUFSON: Reza was never at the National Youth Theater?


MUFSON: Where’d that come from?

S. ABDOH: He just thought it up. Reza made some things up. He might’ve done a stint there in the early summer. But his Peer Gynt, he did that in our boarding school.

MUFSON: What boarding school was that?

S. ABDOH: Wellington. It’s near Taunton. The nearest town is called Taunton. It’s in Somerset County.
One thing about Reza that’s amazing is… he was an incredible creative artist. He didn’t need to exaggerate his accomplishments. And I don’t know why he did. Even in boarding school, he was only sixteen when he graduated, and he won the English literature prize in this very tough English prep school amongst all these upper class English kids. He won the highest prize. He could’ve gone to Oxford or Cambridge on a full scholarship. He could’ve done anything. Why do you need to exaggerate your accomplishments? I never understood that. I never understood that. He didn’t need to, he was great as he was. He was totally respected by all his teachers from a very young age. Treated like a god, almost. I remember.

I think in the beginning of his career in LA, he was really afraid of not making it. Of drifting in this ocean, in this American continent, without any family, without any money. And we really didn’t have any money. Reza, as a seventeen year old sophomore in USC, he couldn’t even afford food to eat a lot of times. He couldn’t even afford to eat one meal a day. So I think psychologically, he was really afraid of not making it. And he wanted to climb up the ladder of success in theater in LA and later, beyond; he did what everybody else does. He fattened the résumé. And who could check on it? I didn’t find out he’d done these things until the last couple of years of his life. And to me it was just funny. And I didn’t understand why people who knew about it even bothered to keep this lie going. Why? What is this bullshit about National Youth Theater? What is that? The guy was amazing as it was. But he did that, like the thing about our Italian mom. People have talked about him lowering his age a couple of years. He didn’t really do that, but there were small little exaggerations that he said in the beginning of his career that came to haunt him later on.

MUFSON: Did he study Kathakali in India?


MUFSON: Was the street show, Vazz Pazz, a fiction?

S. ABDOH: The what?

MUFSON: I thought he did a Kathakali show called Vazz Pazz, or something to that effect.

S. ABDOH: Reza never went to India. This is the first time I heard about that. It’s true, Bob Wilson did come to Iran in the festival at Shiraz in the 70’s. Reza wasn’t there. I read some French article about how he was the kid who was present to give Bob Wilson his bouquet of flowers. That’s bullshit. “And now he’s come back to do this or that.” It’s all bullshit.

MUFSON: So he wasn’t in the Wilson show either.

S. ABDOH: He was too young to be there. He was this tall [gestures]. How could he be there? What would he be doing there? It’s so crazy. To me, Reza was so great that all these little exaggerations are just boggle my mind. And the thing is, as he became more and more successful, and, my God, had he lived, he would’ve been massively successful. People are already beginning to treat him, truly, like some sort of a prophet. [The earlier falsehoods] came to haunt him. They came to haunt him. He was uncomfortable with it. Like the whole business of our mother being Italian. He knew he had made a gaffe at one point in his life and said these little lies. But lies just compound themselves. You never get away from them you know. You can never get away from them. And our poor mom, when she came for his funeral here, the memorial in LA, she didn’t know what to do. Some people wanted to speak Italian with her and… And that was like a joke, you know. I felt sorry for her. But the thing is, it came to haunt him. I think in a way he… I mean it didn’t bother him that much because “so what.” But in a way, he kind of regretted having said that. At the very, very early part of his life, when he was like eighteen, nineteen years old he said these things and then he couldn’t take them back. Things like that, how can you take it back? How could he come back when he’s thirty, thirty-one, thirty-three and say, “Oh, by the way, my mother’s not Italian. She still lives in Iran.” Stuff like that. Little stuff like that. It always made me uncomfortable.

MUFSON: Your collaboration with him was most intense on Quotations, right?

S. ABDOH: Yeah. It was beginning to look like from that point on I was going to write all his plays. And I wrote the last play, I actually finished it. But then he got sick.

MUFSON: Story of Infamy?

S. ABDOH: Yeah. For me, writing for that sort of theater, I would’ve only done it for Reza. It’s not like something I’d pursue. But I knew Reza had a very keen eye, and especially an ear, for text and images. So he wouldn’t ask me for a story, but for words. And he had a very high sense of detection of crap.

MUFSON: Detection of…

S. ABDOH: Bullshit. You know, text and framework. He would look at it and say, “This is crap. Take it out.” So I knew I was in good hands. That’s why I agreed to work with him and write plays. I’m not used or even inclined to writing things that have no plot. But I did it for him and I did it very willingly because I knew it was in good hands.

MUFSON: So he would give you a framework?

S. ABDOH: He would give me an idea—

MUFSON: Because there’s a trajectory to Quotations.

S. ABDOH: Oh, absolutely. The way Quotations came about is, many years ago, when I was very young, I had written this novel that I threw away, called Quotations from a Ruined City. He had read that manuscript and he remembered certain things from it, so he said, “I want to use that text to do this play.” Because basically that book I’d written was a rumination on the idea of ruins. And I’d taken the idea of the title from an old ancient Chinese poem called “The Ruined City.” Which is a beautiful poem from, I guess, about two thousand years ago. So I had taken that title and I had written this free-floating idea on what ruins are all about. With Iran in mind and all the ruins around the world. That’s at the same time Bosnia was happening. And the whole Bosnia part of Quotations is Reza’s thing, most of it. So he took that idea of ruins and some of the text I had and expanded on it and mixed it with ideas about Bosnia and the killings and all that and created Quotations from—

MUFSON: What about the puritan figures?

S. ABDOH: The puritan figures?

MUFSON: The entrepreneurial pilgrims.

S. ABDOH: It wasn’t necessarily integral to the whole thing. However, it was an image of grossness, of capitalism gone to its greediest. And it was synthesizing and putting it all together with the idea of death and all that stuff you know. It was a parallel theme moving along. For Reza, I think, if you look at all his plays, for most of it, the theme of power is so important. And powerlessness. And justice and injustice. Whether it was that or Tight Right White.

MUFSON: That’s always been a concern of his?

S. ABDOH: Absolutely. I think his suffering from such a young age, being here, being on his own and having to really scrounge a living from scratch with no support at all.

MUFSON: This scrounging started, though, in ’79 after the revolution?

S. ABDOH: In 1980, yeah. I think it created a huge undercurrent of rage. Because you have to remember, he’d been raised in a very wealthy atmosphere. Just a year prior to the revolution he would be chauffeured around town in a Rolls Royce in London if he wanted to. And now he didn’t have anything. There was a lot of rage in Reza and it manifested itself in his plays. His creative output was the manifestation of that rage. But for Reza, as the years passed and he was in America, he read a lot, he studied people a lot. And he saw that injustice exists and there are those who have power and those who don’t have power. It just became a very important issue with him. It became the central issue of his theater in many ways. Especially toward the later years. And injustice, Injustice just destroyed him. It just drove him through more rage. He would watch TV and see and hear about another atrocity in Bosnia, or anything like that, and it would just drive him insane. He felt like he wanted to say something about it, and he did through his art. And the last play, I’ll tell you what it was all about. It was about capital punishment and illness. “A story of infamy.” He was moving towards these topics more and more. And he would’ve continued to do so. Now and then people have asked me what the Story of Infamy was all about. While writing, Reza would continually remind me to keep these things in mind: death, redemption, illness, and capital punishment. Capital punishment, what is that? The last year of his life, he read every book he could get his hands on capital punishment you know. He wanted to go inside the mind of the guy or woman condemned to die. He wanted to do a play about that. At the same time, he wanted to do a play about a sick man who was also condemned to death. So that was what the Story of Infamy was all about, these two individuals condemned to death.

He was moving more and more towards that direction. His politics, as time wore on, became a very big part of his… And I think that’s why his theater to me is so poignant. Because he really felt things. He really felt it in his guts you know. And you saw his plays, you felt like “Here is someone who’s really trying to say something.” You know I’ve seen a lot of people doing theater which has obviously been influenced through his. And to be honest, to this day, none of them has made any impact on me because I think a lot of people just take those elements, somebody taking all their clothes off, somebody whipping somebody else or just being loud or a certain kind of music. But it was so much more than that. It had it core, it had a heart. It was that seed which he built out from and he gathered from everything he could find. Whether it was from watching TV, or from the works of a philosopher, or a poem a friend had written that suited his purpose for that play. He took what he could because the kernel was inside him. And he just built out.

MUFSON: Did you parents see any of his stuff that he tried to do when he was a kid? Has your mother ever seen any of his productions?

S. ABDOH: Oh, yeah, absolutely. She would come to Europe. She came to Europe and she saw The Hip-Hop Waltz of Eurydice. I think she saw Quotations. And this will come as another shock to you. I think when he was like thirteen, he directed a film in Iran about this boy who had to repeat everything twice. Everything he said, he had to say twice. But I have to call my mom and ask about that. I haven’t seen it and I don’t want to tell you something that might not be true. But I’ve heard it was done. I even remember my dad talking about it. But I have to call our mom or ask somebody who really either saw it or knew about it.

MUFSON: So then he had some kind of technical proficiency with film apparatuses.

S. ABDOH: No. Absolutely not. No. No. Even if he did it when he was a young kid, he would’ve just been telling people what to do. He wouldn’t have been behind the camera or anything like that. But he did have a natural ability, as I said, to direct. Even as an eleven year old. He could’ve stood there and told grown adults three times his age what to do and they would’ve done it without any arguments. He just had that bearing about him. But he knew what he was doing. What he did wasn’t wrong. It was the right thing to do. He was that intelligent.

MUFSON: One of the people I spoke with, I can’t remember who it was now, sort of compared the way he directed to the way he cooked. That he sort of had an instinctive, impulsive way of putting things together in the kitchen.

S. ABDOH: Whoever told you that said a beautiful thing. It is absolutely right. I don’t know where he learned how to cook, but he was one of the best cooks I’ve ever eaten out of the hands from. And he would create this elaborate…. Persian food is very difficult to make. Because it’s not spicy, so you can’t hide the taste through pepper and things like that. You have to just do it exactly right. And he knew how to do it. Yeah, exactly. His theater was like that. With cooking, he knew the taste he was trying to get. And with his theater, he knew the feeling he wanted to get, even more than the image. The image was an extension of that feeling.

MUFSON: What was your mom’s reaction to the work then? A lot of people have focused on the degree to which the work is shocking. I guess some people get a little bit more freaked out than others about a certain level of profanity or graphic violence or what have you. Which for me has never really been what the work is about. I thought of that when you said he would never try to conceal the true flavor of things with spice. It seems like you can make an analogy between that and the use of shock and simply being incendiary for the sake of being incendiary, which I don’t think he—

S. ABDOH: No. No, he didn’t.

MUFSON: —was doing.

S. ABDOH: No. The unfortunate thing… This is a tangent, but… The unfortunate thing is a lot of the people who saw his work and maybe were influenced by it, that’s the only part they pick out. And it’s kind of sad. But that’s neither her nor there. Go ahead. You were saying?

MUFSON: Did you mother see past the shock?

S. ABDOH: Oh, yeah. Yeah. She saw it. She saw it.

MUFSON: She saw what he was trying to do?

S. ABDOH: No. She didn’t… I think… I think she saw the plays and she loved them because they were Reza’s plays. She really didn’t have it in her to see this play and say, “My god that is so incredible.” You know what I’m saying? She just loved them because… It was much more basic and simpler than that. And we really shouldn’t read into it more than what it was. This mother who loves her oldest son and he’s doing this play and, he’s kind of famous and his company is touring through Europe and she’s come to Paris to see his play. And she sees it and she’s amazed. Not necessarily by just the play, but the whole hullabaloo surrounding it. It’s “My son, the famous director.” Even from when we were much younger and she would take us to museums and such. It wasn’t because she was less interested in culture per se than the idea of culture, the idea of going to a museum and seeing a Rembrandt. Because that’s the kind of person she is. She’s like a little girl, you know. “Let’s go to a museum and see a Rembrandt” or a…whatever. But of course she loved it. If there’s one thing she’s not, it’s a prude. You know three weeks after Reza died, I took her to a male strip show in Times Square. She has just come from Iran and she’s bent on seeing a male strip show and I took her to it. With my girlfriend. The three of us sat there and saw these guys strip. And I thought it was beautiful. I thought it was the most beautiful homage we could pay to Reza, to go and do this. You know? I mean, how many people can do that? With their mothers three weeks after one of the brothers is dead.

MUFSON: Do you think Reza ever consciously tried to shock us for the sake of shocking or was it usually just something that came as a side effect?

S. ABDOH: I think it was a side effect. Although, it’s hard to say. Who knows, maybe he did. The age we live in, if you don’t shock, then you’re really strange and avant-garde. Shocking is not a very shocking thing anymore you know. Everybody is out there to shock. You visit any of the Soho or Chelsea galleries, somebody’s trying to put a condom from the wall and calling it art. That’s not a big issue. I think he was really trying to create a theater that had many dimensions. And one of those was this element of shock and cruelty.

MUFSON: Did the two of you go to the theater much together?

S. ABDOH: No. No. I wasn’t interested in the theater. I very seldom went to the theater. He went a lot. Towards the end of his life he didn’t go at all. He really didn’t like anybody’s work. And whenever he went, he would just get very impatient, and just have to sit through it or wait for a way to walk out. I think he was right. There’s really not that much good theater. There’s a lot of theater, but not much of it is very good. And he understood that. He went less and less as the years went on. Especially after the first time he got sick. He just had to conserve his energies.
Reza was very well read. Very, very well read. And as far as theater goes, he read everything. Everything there is to…you know…that’s been written. Every play. Every script. He had read everything. He was very sophisticated as far as that went. Especially in his younger years. From a very young age, he was very well read. And he knew exactly what he wanted to read. I really think in theater, not only he was an incredible artist and a director, but I think that the other thing he found in theater was that it was one medium where he could create, he could actually cook that sustained creative work that was two hours long. He put a little here and then there. A dash here. A dash there. Just like his cooking. That’s a great, great analogy. And I think you’re right on the money about that.

MUFSON: It does seem like his interest in theater started from a very early age.

S. ABDOH: Absolutely.

MUFSON: At the same time that he was writing poetry.

S. ABDOH: Even before. Some years ago, a couple of years ago, I was running through my younger brother’s picture book and I ran into these… I remember it, the occasion, we were in England, in London, and Reza must’ve been eleven years old and he had…. We always brought one of the servants, the maids with us to London, to do the cooking and stuff. This poor villager from somewhere in Iran. And Reza, even at that age, ten, eleven years old, he would create these weird costumes and put them on the servant and then takes pictures of them. And then write underneath it, give it some title like “The Wandering Spirit” or something. From a very young age he started doing that. I think he was really destined to do this. And then when he realized, by the time he was, let’s say, eighteen…by the time he was nineteen, “No. I can’t write the next great novel of the twentieth century,” he zoomed in on what he could do and what he was really good at. Which is direct theater. And from there, he was a success story filled with a lot of feelings. He was an obstacle course, but he would start in and he worked hard and… Had he lived, he would’ve been one of the greatest.

MUFSON: So did your father get a chance to see any of Reza’s work?

S. ABDOH: No. He died early 1980. And he would not have been pleased had he seen it. I mean, he wouldn’t have seen it. It was from a different world altogether.

MUFSON: What about any of the stuff that Reza directed at school?

S. ABDOH: He didn’t see it.

MUFSON: He didn’t see it?

S. ABDOH: No. He didn’t see it.

MUFSON: Did you see Peer Gynt? What was that like?

S. ABDOH: Dan, I was so young. I just remember an image, but I can’t really tell you. But you have to understand just what incredible respect this fifteen, fourteen year old…fifteen year old, maybe sixteen year old teenager commanded. You know, English prep school, boarding prep school, there’s a lot of racism still there. More than you could ever imagine in America. Really. More than you could ever imagine here. An Iranian… A wog? A pak? Forget about it. And for him to do that, to actually direct it, put it on Peer Gynt so the whole school can watch it, he must’ve commanded an incredible amount of respect from his teachers. And the powers that be in that place. He really did. It doesn’t sound like much, but to me, it’s way more than anything about National Youth Theater of London. Really. If you were in London back then, you would know what I’m talking about. And going to school. Because for all intents and purposes, he should’ve been nothing more than a pak and a wog and a sand nigger instead. He had that knack to get things done his way and do it well from a very young age. And his teachers loved him. Adored him. He was well read. He was interesting. He was intelligent. And he knew what he wanted. He knew what he wanted. He had no dilemmas. It wasn’t, “Well, should I be a businessman or a…” or a this or that. After he finished USC, he did, just for the sake of the family, he did apply to law school. And he went for like a half a semester and then he quit. You know, he didn’t want to do that. But for him, it was pretty straightforward what he wanted to do with his life. It was just a matter of finding the right medium. The right medium. When we were at boarding school… He tried all the mediums. If he had been a talented artist, he would’ve tried to become a painter. He tried very hard in boarding school. He got an “O” level; not an “A” level, an “O” level in the painting. But he wasn’t that good a painter. He was a very mediocre painter. But he tried. And then he realized “Okay. I can’t do that. But I can do this and that. And between this and that, I can do that better than this.”

MUFSON: What is an “O” level as opposed to “A” level?

S. ABDOH: “O” level is in fifth form just before you go to sixth form. Which is a two twelfth grades. They have to pass a set of exams. But then you’re allowed to go to twelfth grade. It’s very difficult in England. You know, to get a diploma in England is a much bigger deal than here. By the time you get your “A” levels, you’re a very well educated person. So he got his “O” levels. And one of them was in painting. But he realized, “No. I’m not that good a painter. But I’m a good poet. I’m a good this or that. After that I’m even a better director.” So he became a director. Whatever medium he could do well to communicate his thoughts to the world. And the theater was his medium.

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