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HomeNewsCampus NewsUCI Anthropology Professor Roxanne Varzi Presents Yalda: An Iranian Twelfth Night 

UCI Anthropology Professor Roxanne Varzi Presents Yalda: An Iranian Twelfth Night 

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UCI’s New Swan Shakespeare Company hosted a reading of Yalda: An Iranian Twelfth Night, on Nov. 30. 

Written by UCI anthropology professor Roxanne Varzi and directed by UCI Chancellor’s Professor of Drama Eli Simon, the play centers around a young woman named Banafsheh who also masqueraded as a man named Bani in a quest to find her lost twin brother in Iran. 

Set in the week of Iranian winter solstice, “Yalda,” the Shakespeare-inspired play touches on themes of gender identity, sexuality and the liveliness of youth in a war-torn 90’s Iran. 

Audience members gathered outside of the Humanities Gateway and partook in a variety of Iranian snacks and beverages as they waited for doors to open. Inside, UCI graduate students Vivianna McCormick, Zalen King, Heather Lee Echevarria, Timothy Frangos and undergraduate senior Sammie Moore, performers for the night’s event, set up in front of the row of chairs. The readers played their roles passionately, with musician Eyvind Kang and vocalist Jessica Kenney performing Iranian songs in the background. 

The reading took place following the death of 22-year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini, who perished after being imprisoned by Iranian morality police for not wearing a hijab and wearing skinny jeans. Amini was brutally beaten in the head and torso, but Iranian government officials have denied responsibility, blaming “underlying disease” as the cause of death.

Iran has since seen some of its largest nationwide protests to date. These demonstrations have come with a slew of murders committed by both plain clothes and uniformed members of the Iranian police and military, with at least 402 adults and 58 children killed thus far, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran

In a Q&A session held following the play, audience members were given the opportunity to ask questions to Varzi and Simon.

Varzi said she was inspired to write Yalda after taking her son to a seminar based on William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” play. During the seminar, she was able to relate the play to the Islamic Republic and decided to write her own play about it.

Although  Varzi wrote the play four years ago, prior to the recent events in Iran, she said that she was able to relate the play to the Islamic Republic even then. “We read Twelfth Night and the whole time I was like writing in the margin ‘Malvolio Islamic Republic,’” Varzi said. “I just couldn’t believe the similarities.” 

Simon said Yalda was a “beautiful rendition” of Twelfth Night, which is why he wanted to work on directing the play. “I read the script. I thought you have to do this, it was really that simple,” Simon said. “[Yalda is] unique because of the setting and the cultural resonance.” 

Laiyla Santillan is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at laiylas@uci.edu.

Simon Jeau is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. He can be reached at sjeau@uci.edu.