Review Fix chats with playwright Dewey Moss who discusses his production at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, “Death of the Persian Prince.” Breaking down the inspiration for the performance, as well as his goals for the future, Moss lets us know exactly why we should check out the production.
For more information on the production and the MITF, click here.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this production?
Dewey Moss: For me, inspiration always seems to happen with a tiny seed of information that peaks my interest, then grows with research. On Death of the Persian Prince, it actually hit while watching an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, during which he was interviewing a Middle-Eastern guest and discussing the lack of gay rights in Iran. True to his form, Maher said something along the lines of instead of allowing people to be gay, they “chop their off!” At first I thought his comment must refer to some sort of barbaric torture that gay men are subjected to in Iran, given my surface-level understanding of anti-gay policies in various countries. So I began to research out of curiosity more than anything. What I found, however, was something so unbelievable and, in my opinion, hypocritical that I felt I had to write about it. The fact that something so extreme as Sexual Reassignment surgery was actually legal in Iran became fascinating, and wasn’t exactly a new notion. Since the 1980’s, the government has recognized that there was little religious reason for not allowing the “corrective” surgery. However, it was when I began to understand the recent trend of gay men who do not identify as transgender having the surgery in order to avoid legal persecution or execution that Death of the Persian Prince really began to take shape. I poured over research from the BBC reports and other news organizations, Shia law and writings, and found organizations such as the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR) in Canada who helped me begin to understand the real story of the individuals choosing take this action instead of risking to live as a gay man.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Moss: I am usually inspired to write about topical issues, particularly in the LGBT community. My feature film, A Normal Life deals with gay parenting, and my upcoming play The Crusade of Connor Stephens deals with religious issues toward gays, and Death of the Persian Prince is continuing the course. Once I have an idea, I spend a good deal of time researching various elements of the idea. After I feel like I have a sufficient understanding of the issue that I’m writing about, the real work begins — and that is to turn the issue into an experience — to really get into the characters’ heads and let the character intention drive the narrative. This is the part of the writing process that I consider most fun — the characters really begin to “speak.” While I never lose sight of the issue at hand, and I also have a general idea of what the storyline may be, I’m always amazed at where the characters take me and how the final script turns out. Of course, once the script is completed, I begin a significant amount of rewrites until I feel like it is ready to be read, at which time I call a few of my friends for an informal reading. Then more rewrites, another reading, more rewrites, and finally a more formalized reading with professional actors.
Review Fix: What makes you different from other playwrights?
Moss: Because of my background as a gay man having grown up in Texas and moved to NYC, I think my viewpoint as a writer has the edge of an urban person with the sensibility of the Southern USA. My experience both as an actor and director gives me a strong sense of writing from the character’s point of view. Whereas many writers start with a strong sense of story, I focus primarily on the intentions and thought processes of the characters to drive the creation of the story; for me, everything begins and ends with the characters. This is particularly important to me when writing about issues; to make sure that the issues are embedded into the character’s emotional being and experiences as opposed to writing about the issue itself. I feel this helps effectively connect my work to audiences.
Review Fix: What makes this production special?
Moss: This is a story that I think is unknown to western audiences — even in the LGBT community — and I think it deserves to be told. Because I’ve set the play in NYC, it’s more accessible to western audiences, clearly showing the scope and impact that foreign anti-gay policies can have on individuals even when they no longer live under the rules of that society. As far as we’ve come in our own struggle for LGBT rights, it’s always good to be reminded that there’s so much more work to do for our community worldwide, and to make sure that our country stays on a path of expanding human rights rather than limiting them.
Review Fix: How is your cast unique?
Moss: We have a truly international cast, which is very exciting. Because two of the characters are Iranian, we knew that casting could be difficult. Luckily we were able to cast Pooya Mohseni as Samantha, a talented Iranian-American actress who truly grew up in Iran and truly understands the persecutions of the LGBT community. Gopal Divan, cast as Cas, was born in Hong Kong and studied acting in the UK. He is a wonderful actor who also brings a clear understanding of the different circumstances facing the LGBT community in various countries. George Faya, playing Samantha’s American boyfriend James, brings a depth of emotion as he tackles the role of an ex-marine who served in Iraq, now caught another type of international turmoil. These three actors are immensely talented and excited to be part of the project. We’re lucky to have them premiere the show.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Moss: What I learned most is that I had to constantly set aside any preconceived ideas of Iran in order to humanize all the characters. No matter how open minded I consider myself to be, I found that the very name of the country Iran had negative connotations that had been with me since I was a child. In fact, the first time I remember hearing about Iran was during the Iran Hostage Crisis. From that moment on, the country has been painted as “evil’ and the “enemy.” Many people wouldn’t argue with those labels from a political stance, but I know that this isn’t necessarily true of the people of Iran. So I learned that I had to be even more open minded. To place myself in a situation to where I loved my home, loved my family, but was persecuted by the government. Then learn how to allow myself to communicate that effectively to an audience through my writing. It was a surprising and great learning process.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of this festival?
Moss: I’m so honored to be a part of The Midtown International Theater Festival, in part because their mission statement aligns with my overall feeling about developmental theater. With Off and Off-Off Broadway no longer being as viable of a developmental space in NYC as it once was, we desperately need more places for theater to grow and develop without the immense costs that go into a production, and MITF allows for that and so much more. They have been encouraging and terrific to deal with.
Review Fix: What are your goals for the production?
Moss: It’s my hope that the audiences are moved enough to help support some of the efforts by organizations such as IRQR or others that we will be including in our playbill. In terms of the physical production, with only three characters and one set, it would be very produceable for regional theaters or universities, so I’m hoping that it will see a long life past MITF.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy it the most?
Moss: I have found that my writing tends to appeal to a broad audience, but often moves those who are not part of the LGBT community. Many times we’re aware of the situations that oppose us, but others aren’t. My works reveal these issues through strong characterization, which non-LGBT audiences often identify with and feel they can “digest” the issue more easily.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Moss: I’m very excited about my next project, The Crusade of Connor Stephens, which is a show we’re working on for a commercial Off Broadway venture. It was accepted into a number of festivals, including the 2015 NYC Fringe Festival, but everyone involved felt like it was ready to push into a commercial venture instead of presenting it on the festival circuit. It’s a show that revolves around the consequences of radical religion and being gay, as well as addressing the gun violence in our society. It is set in Texas, and the characters are very much a part of me as I lived that life. I’ve wanted to write a show that addressed this issue for quite some time, but I just had to find the right angle. I’m very pleased with The Crusade of Connor Stephens, and it has played extremely well in the developmental staged readings we’ve produced. More information about the show is available atthecrusadeofconnorstephens.com. I’m also working on a new musical entitled The Southern Baptist Biddie Band and Their Dirty Little Secret. That one I’ll leave up to your imagination.