Review: World premiere of ‘All The Shah’s Men’ at Arabian Shakespeare Festival (**)

by Charles Kruger

(l to r) CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt (Christian Haines) secretly meets with the Shah (Farshad Farahat) in Arabian Shakespeare Festival’s world premier production of “All The Shah’s Men” by Matthew Spangler. Photo Credit: Gregg Le Blanc.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

In 1951, the democratically elected Prime Minster of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s oil industry, freezing out Britain for the very understandable reason that the British had been exploiting Iran’s resources at the expense of Iranians.

Although Mossadegh was no communist, the Americans typically played the Communist card and, with that excuse, set up a successful CIA operation to covertly remove him from power, laying the ground work for the subsequent horrors of the Savak secret police, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution, and the continuing bad blood between Iran and the U.S.

In one of the odd turns of history, the CIA agent who helped to mastermind the coup that removed Mossadegh was none other than Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Spangler bases his new play about the fascinating history of the coup on the book, “All The Shah’s Men” by New York Times reporter and foreign affairs scholar Stephen Kinzer.

The facts are fascinating enough to provide an interesting evening of theatre, but as developed in this production, the drama never quite gets off the ground. The play is a series of short scenes that are almost entirely expository, giving us the story, but little of the emotion and almost no real suspense. Indeed, this drama is so by-the-numbers that at times a scholarly narrator steps in to fill in any gaps, which is a device that simply does not work. What we get is a dry history lecture in the form of a play.

It didn’t have to be this way. All of the actors perform capably, and the relationships, especially that between Roosevelt and his Iranian assistant (played with admirable subtlety by Farshad Farahat), are interesting. But each time the human interactions begin to involve us emotionally, the play lurches forward into further exposition.

As a reviewer, I am forced to the conclusion that although this play has plenty of potential, it requires considerably more time in workshop to be fully stage worthy.

For the opening night audience, most of whom seemed to be very aware of and interested in the history of the coup, the play was not a disappointment. There is a story here worth telling, and those with a strong interest in CIA interventionism in Iran may well find it fascinating.

“All The Shah’s Men” continues at Royce Gallery  through May 20th. For further information click here.

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Rating: ** (for an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“All The Shah’s Men,” a world premiere by Matthew Spangler, based on the book by Stephen Kinzer. Produced by Arabian Shakespeare Festival. Director: Vickie Rozell. Scenic Designer: S. Conner-Brown. Costume Designer: Lisa Claybaugh. Lighting Designer: Joanna Hobbs. Sound Designer: William J. Brown III. Culstural Consultant: Farshad Farahat. Dramaturg: Vickie Rozell.

Cast: 

Kermit Rossevelt: Christian Haines. Mustapha/et al.: Farshad Farahat. Roger/Reporter: William J. Brown III. Lambton/Kate: Annamarie MacLeod. Henderson/et al.: KenBoswell.

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