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The Dartmouth
April 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

“Noon Panir in the Dark” sheds light on humanity behind women’s rights movement in Iran

The play, written by Armita Mirkarimi ’25, tells a story of being Iranian and growing up that isn’t completely surrounded by pain and trauma.

Noon Panir in the Dark

From Friday, Jan. 27 to Monday, Jan. 30, 005 Sudikoff Hall was transformed into an intimate Iranian classroom for the production of “Noon Panir in the Dark,” a play written by Armita Mirkarimi ’25. The winner of the 2022 Ruth and Loring Dodd Playwriting Competition, this is the first play to be staged in Sudikoff while the Hopkins Center undergoes renovations.

Located in a classroom, Iranian newspaper clippings plastered the walls, Persian rugs decorated the floor and subliminal messages covered the chalkboard — from the “women life freedom” mantra written in Farsi to important dates in the history of the women’s rights movement in Iran.

Of the five main characters, four were played by Dartmouth undergraduates — Uma Misha ’26, Julia Abbott ’26, Tanaz Muhamed ’26 and Elda Kahssay ’24 — and one by a professional Iranian-American actor from New York City, Sanam Laila Hashemi. In the two Saturday performances, Mirkarimi herself stepped into the role of Farzaneh at the last minute because one of the actresses was struggling with severe concussion symptoms. 

Mirkarimi said that she had the unique opportunity to act in her own play and experienced it from multiple perspectives over the course of the weekend. 

“I think throughout this entire process I’ve been feeling very lonely. Because it’s just an odd feeling to write about something that you are kind of a part of and yet also detached from,” Mirkarimi said. “When I’m watching it, I’m thinking, ‘are they going to laugh at the jokes? Are they going to understand what I’m saying?’ But when I was in it, it just happened. I felt like I was with the other actresses.”

The unique setting of the performance plays a large role in creating that sense of closeness in the piece. After the initial silence breaks and the characters come into the room, the only light source is an enormous candle on the table that was created specifically for the play to fit Mirkarimi’s vision of muting the senses of both the audience and the actors.

An experienced writer who has explored many literary forms, Mirkarimi said that this surrealist play broke all of her usual rules and limitations for playwriting.

“For a long time, I had this notion that if it’s not producible, it’s not good. But then with ‘Noon Panir,’ I just went for it,” Mirkarimi said. 

Beatrice Burack ’25, who attended the play, said that she appreciated the intellectual complexity of the play. From the literary references to the specific intention behind the actors’ every subtle movement, Burack described seeing the “manifestation of the [Iranian] culture” in the play as “a privilege.”

“Something I found really powerful about this play is the fact that the main characters are college women. As a female college student in the U.S., that perspective made a very foreign cultural experience to me a bit more accessible,” Burack said.

Kahssay, the actress who played the daydreamer Leyli, similarly noted how the raw emotion and vulnerability of the characters really struck a chord with the audience. 

“What I love about the play is the fact that, yes, it’s really heavy, and it’s really sad, but the characters are so well-developed that they kind of remind you of girls that you might have in your own life, so there is still that relatability,” Kahssay said.

Mirkarimi said that she aims to capture the multifaceted nature of being human in her play.

“I wanted to tell a story of being Iranian and honestly just growing up that isn’t completely surrounded by pain and trauma. I hope people laugh,” Mirkarimi said.

In the Q&A session after the opening night performance, Mirkarimi and the cast reinforced that they are constantly grappling with whether they have the right to be telling this story in the first place. Mirkarimi made a clear statement to that effect:

“I don’t want to give the impression that this is what Iran is,” Mirkarimi said. “The stark, ugly reality of it is that I get to write my little plays and put this thing on… but there are people who are actually dying every day. That is something I really struggle with reconciling.”

Kahssay recalled how Mirkarimi helped her through her concerns about doing the story justice as a non-Iranian woman by making sure that she and the other actors were knowledgeable about the subject. She added that the actors went into the process highly conscious that they were tackling a really pressing and sensitive subject for many people. 

“50 percent of the rehearsal process was parsing through the script, making sure we got all of the references and that we were pronouncing things in Farsi correctly. We wanted to do the show right,” Kahssay said.

Kahssay’s sentiment was echoed by her co-actress Muhamed, who played Farzaneh.

“It was such a cool experience of just decoding this beautiful text that Armita had written,” Muhamed said. “This play had never been staged before — and so while the words existed on paper, it was our job as a whole team to bring it to life for the first time. We weren’t just telling the story; we were creating it as we went along.”

Both actresses also underscored how special it was to be in an all-female production and to work on this project with a female Egyptian director, Sharifa Yasmin. 

“We formed a real sisterhood over the past month,” Muhamed said. 

The playbill included a note from Mirkarimi in which she discussed how writing the play was a kind of “catharsis” for her when missing home, how its meaning evolved over the past year with recent events in Iran surrounding protests for women’s rights and how she hopes the audience will feel coming out of the performance.

“I will never capture the complexities of the Iranian experience. My fractured sentences will never paint the brave men and women in Iran in the colors they deserve. But I hope you see the humanity in these women, look up Mahsa Amini’s name after the performance, and leave with curiosity, not judgment,” Mirkarimi said. “There is darkness and profound loneliness in all of us. In a lot of ways, we are all searching for a home. This is just one path: We must keep carving them . . . We must keep telling stories.”

Correction appended (February 3, 9:23 a.m.): A previous version of this article had a misspelling of Mahsa Amini's name.