Front Row Reviews

“The Tutor” Exposes Cultural Repression

New Conservatory Theatre Center, in association with Golden Thread Productions, presents Torange Yeghiazarian’s compelling Iranian/American production “The Tutor.” “The Tutor” delves into deception as a cultural defense against the terror of Tehran’s “morality laws.”

Iranian immigrant, spirited 25-year-old Baran (dynamic Maya Nazzal), finds herself navigating an unfamiliar culture amid a complex situation. Recently Baran wed a devoted 50-year-old Iranian-American Kayvon (expressive Lawrence Radecker), arranged by his mother. But she harbors a profound secret—she is a lesbian. If this secret were to be exposed in Iran, she could be executed.

Set Designer Matt Owens ingeniously weaves Iranian culture into every corner of the intimate square stage. Books and a backgammon game rest on a shelf positioned above the double-row seated audience. Cooking utensils, prepared tea, and a teapot find cozy spots in small cubbyholes. Lighting and Projection Designer Maxwell Bowman bathes the stage in a vibrant pattern of lights forming a Persian rug. Sound Designer Kalon Thibodeaux enriches the atmosphere with moving Iranian music, while a green tiled table and chairs seamlessly transitions time from the past and present. 

Enter the confident Azar (versatile Debórah Eliezer), a Berkeley Mathematics professor and Kayvon’s closest friend. When Kayvon, a high-level executive, must travel for a meeting, he entrusts Azar with the task of showing Baran around San Francisco. She could tutor and guide her through the intricacies of her new homeland. However, all three ultimately build a triangle of deception and hypocrisy.

Azar-Debórah Eliezer, Baran-Maya Nazzal

As Baran and Azar embark on a clandestine romance, Baran experiences a newfound sense of liberation. Her excitement permeates the room as she embraces her identity as a lesbian, finally able to express her love for women without fear of persecution.

Despite her intentions to divorce Kayvon, she keeps her plans concealed from him. Azar hides her true feelings for Kayvon. Kayvon never discloses his lack of love for Baran while deceiving himself into believing her relationship is not only “green card” motivated.

In a poignant monologue, Baran reflects on the secrets we hold, the deceptions that are shared, as she states: “It’s okay, as long as we believe the same bullshit.” She has learned that her people keep the secrets between themselves and the government.

Each character monologue expresses their unfiltered feelings about themselves and their situation, unfolding the truth to us, as if we were their intimate friends.  

However, In Baran’s struggle toward authenticity, Azar urges her to share the true story of life in Iran to the New York Times, and the consequences are severe.  

Special kudos go to Director Sahar Assaf for the bold presentation of raw feelings. The kissing, the yelling, the shoving, the brute intensity, and also the intimacy of touch—very human reactions expressed in a compelling way. When Azar pushes off Kayvon’s chest several times in anger, propelling him backwards, one could feel the collective gasp. A scene excellently played by both Eliezer and Radecker.

Playwright Torange Yeghiazarian pays homage to the current cultural repression and riots in Iran for sexual rights and gender equality. Riots ensued after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman arrested by Iranian morality police.

The Tutor is a thought-provoking play that grabs our attention and holds on, as three very talented actors deliver on psychologically sensitive issues that underline individual and societal behavior. Come and be tutored.

Top of Form

“The Tutor” by Torange Yeghiazarian, directed by Sahar Assaf, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco. Info: – to May 12, 2024.

Cast: Debórah EliezerMaya Nazzal, and Lawrence Radecker.

Banner photo: Maya Nazzal, Debórah Eliezer, & Lawrence Radecker. Photos by Lois Tema