Majid Tafreshi was in rehearsals when he heard the news about the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in Tehran, killing 176 people.
The Iranian Canadian actor and playwright did what artists often do in times of strife and sought to channel his grief into inspiration and healing.
On Saturday, Jan. 8, the second anniversary of the crash, Tafreshi and director/co-producer Sarah Marchand are debuting Love at 752, a stage reading of the first play inspired by the tragic event.
“We always ask ourselves, what is the function of storytelling? And I think for Majid and I, when this event happened two years ago, we both found healing through art and we hope people who are still grieving today can find collective communal healing through this storytelling event,” Marchand said.
At least seven of the victims lived on the North Shore, where two-thirds of all the Iranian immigrants in B.C. make their home.
Although it is based on real events, Tafreshi chose to use an abstract and surrealist narrative. The main character, an aspiring musician played by Tafreshi, wakes up on the day of the crash to find a beautiful woman in his bed – the personification of Death.
“He starts questioning her to find the truth and his truth. It is not really obvious and he struggles with that puzzle, which gets bigger and bigger as time goes,” Tafreshi said. “What we’re telling in this story is more about love, humanity and the truth of life, which everyone deserves to have.”
Although the subject matter is serious, Love at 752 is a comedy-drama and Tafreshi said he expects the audience will enjoy themselves.
The geopolitical ramifications of the crash can’t be avoided. The official explanation from the Iranian government was that the plane was accidentally shot down by members of the Revolutionary Guard who mistook it for an attacking hostile aircraft. The Canadian government does not accept that finding and neither do most Iranian Canadians, or the characters in Tafreshi and Marchand’s play.
“In the script, it's not accidental. The victim character asks was it an accident? And Death says, 'No,'” he said.
To aid in the quest for truth, the pair are donating 20 per cent of the proceeds from Saturday’s performance to PS752 Justice, a non-profit that advocates on behalf of the victims.
And the show will be followed up with a panel discussion to allow audience members to decompress and share how the tragedy and the stage reading have impacted them.
Tafreshi said he knows family members of some of the victims will be attending, all of whom have been very supportive of the effort.
“It's easy for people to forget about it and move on,” Marchand said. “But people who are so directly connected to this event are still very much in mourning. We want to honour the fact that grief is an ongoing process. And we have not forgotten and we hope to keep their memories alive through the story as well.”
Currently, the show is selling tickets for in-person attendance at Kay Meek Arts Centre in compliance with public health guidelines, but they are also planning to record the stage reading and make it viewable online after the fact. Later in 2022, they are planning a larger full stage production. Tickets are by donation, with a $15 minimum. Tickets are available at kaymeek.com.