Crossing Cultures

Ever laughed at an eggplant? Prepare to start. Back from a sold-out engagement at last year's Fringe Festival, Negin Farsad presents her smart comic riff on Islamic culture in her one-woman show Bootleg Islam at the Tank. There are only two performances remaining, so make a date to get there and see this boldly engaging show. And trust me, she can and will make you laugh at that eggplant. Farsad has been compared to Janeane Garofalo for the sharpness of her humor, and while she is similarly blunt and incendiary, Farsad creates a style all her own. Part standup comedy, part "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" presentation (complete with PowerPoint projections), Bootleg Islam is Farsad's triumphant account of her experience straddling a cultural divide.

Farsad was raised in Palm Springs, Calif., and her experience with Iranian relatives first consisted of only brief, sporadic visits to Iran, in which she smuggled illegal American pop CDs to her cousins. In 1999, however, as a 23-year-old, more-experienced American woman, Farsad visited Iran for one month for her cousin Mahsa's wedding. It is this visit that she recounts here, complete with vibrant characters and events as well as Farsad's expanding consciousness of cultural dissonance and its ramifications.

Bootleg Islam is at its most poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny, in the parallels Farsad draws between her life and Mahsa's. They are the same age, but have been raised in completely different cultures. Farsad compares their life paths in "30-second well-crafted montages," complete with a "V-Loss Chart" (the "V" is for virginity) for each woman. Within these montages, Farsad notes the cultural differences in such areas as mobility (Farsad has lived in three countries, while Mahsa has moved around the same small part of town all her life) and sexual proclivity (Farsad engages in a vibrant sex life, while Mahsa must save herself until marriage).

As much as Farsad works to criticize Iranian culture, she is self-critical and a bit defensive as well: "If she knew the truth about me, she would consider me a total Iranian-slut-whore-hooker-prostitute. In New York, they call that a Friendster."

Farsad also adroitly juggles cultural references, embodying characters ranging from her "closeted-yet-overtly-gay-wedding-planner cousin" Amir to her Clark Gable-look-alike uncle. Particularly hilarious is an account of three old women talking at the wedding in the manner of The Golden Girls.

The eggplant

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