By Nazanine Nouri
Later this month, a critically acclaimed play titled “Les Poupées Persanes” (“The Persian Dolls”) is opening at the Théâtre des Béliers in Paris after two successful seasons at the prestigious Festival Avignon Off. The play is by Aida Asgharzadeh, a French writer and actor of Iranian descent.
“Les Poupées Persanes” — which runs from August 24 through September 30 at the Paris theater — is the story of four friends who took part in the 1970-79 student protest movement that led to the Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic. Out of the four, two have died, and one has been jailed. The play revolves around the surviving friend, who has managed to flee her homeland, taking with her two little dolls (hence the title of the play), and build herself a new life two decades later in France, where she lives with her two daughters.
“’Les Poupées Persanes’ is a story that is particularly close to my heart,” Asgharzadeh said in an Instagram post on July 15, “because it is what inspired me to write in the first place. At 16, I discovered that my parents had fled Iran through the mountains. I said to myself that people needed to know this story. That’s how I started writing theatrical narratives. Then, a few years ago, my producers told me that it was time for me to give them all I’ve got, and that is when I wrote ‘Les Poupées Persanes.’”
Aida Asgharzadeh was born in Paris in 1986 to Iranian parents who had fled Iran after the Revolution. She has a double Bachelor’s degree in Modern Literature, and in Cinema and Audiovisual Media from the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University (2005-2008).
Her filmography includes roles in “R.A.I.D. Special Unit” (2016), “Le Voyage de Yashar” (Short 2019), “Golden Wedding” (TV movie 2019) and “Backup!” (TV movie 2020).
In 2018, she received two nominations for Molière awards, France’s highest theatrical accolade: the “Molière de la Révélation Féminine” (the prize for promising young female talent) for her play “La Main de Leila,” which she co-wrote and performed over two consecutive seasons at the Avignon Festival (2016-2017) and later in Paris at the Théâtre des Béliers; and the “Molière de l’Auteur Francophone Vivant” (the prize for best living Francophone author) for “La Main de Leila” and “Les Vibrants,” a play which she wrote and had the lead role in.
“Persian Dolls” is a story of love, of courage and resilience that immerses the audience in 1970s Iran, depicting the fall of the Shah and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Asgharzadeh has the lead role and the rest of the cast includes Kamel Isker, Azize Kabouche, Toufan Manoutcheri, Sylvain Mossot and Ariane Mourier.
The Avignon Festival is an annual arts festival held in July in Avignon, southern France, inside the courtyard of the Palais des Papes (the Palace of the Popes), as well as at other locations in the city. It is the oldest existing festival in France, founded in 1947. Alongside the official festival, a number of performances are presented simultaneously in Avignon as part of the “Avignon Off” program.