Playwright Sanaz Toossi Is Making Theater in Her Own Image

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Indeed, certain elements of the play came from Toossi’s life: One character “is based on one of my best friends and things that she has said to me and the horrible ways I’ve responded to her,” she says with a laugh. “And then the inappropriate jokes are everyone’s, my mom’s and mine, but I take credit for them.” In fact, the humor in Wish You Were Here—and there is a ton of it, sharp and sparkling and intimate—extends to Toossi’s voicy stage directions, too. Nazanin’s character is described as “sort of mean”; Zari is a “space case, but grows up a lot”; and Toossi notes that the actors “should feel free to laugh, give looks, stop paying attention to something they think is boring, etc.” “My greatest goal in life is to make stage directions interesting,” she says. “I think the old school rules are, like, less is more, but whatever—I’m Iranian, and more is more. It always has been.”

Toossi credits Upchurch, whom she first met for a coffee that turned into a long lunch many years ago, for sticking with the show over the years, as it lurched uncertainly from stage production to Audible production and back. “The whole reason I wanted to do theater was to be able to write a story like this for my mom and for other Iranian women and for myself, and the idea that it was never gonna happen made me take a hard look at my career,” Toossi says. “One of the most amazing things G.T.’s done for me is hold onto the idea that we were gonna do the play.”

Wish You Were Here is “the kind of play that I love working on for many reasons,” says Upchurch. “It sort of hits a sweet spot for me. I really love working on plays that prioritize mystery over clarity—that look at ordinary existence, but find access to larger questions through small moments, which this play just does in spades. I also love finding humor in darkness, and so does Sanaz. I think it’s probably one of my favorite things that human beings do—we can look into the abyss and find a way to laugh.”

In her work going forward, Toossi hopes to continue telling the stories that matter most to her: “It’s extremely important to me to see my experience of women reflected on stage,” she says. Still, given the vagaries of the last several years, the young playwright knows better than to be too prescriptive about what that looks like. “I think we’ve all learned through COVID that your career might look a lot different than you thought it would, and there’s pain in that, but there can also be joy and surprise in that,” she reflects. “So, who knows if I’ll do this forever—but I love doing it right now.”

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