This is part of an ongoing series devoted to the stories of Montgomery County’s immigrant population
GAITHERSBURG – In 1977, Farid Bozorgmehr left his native Iran to pursue his love of theater in the United States.
He enrolled in American University’s master’s program in Theatre, having completed his undergraduate studies in Iran.
Two years after his arrival, the government of the Shah, which had been supported by the United States, was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution.
“People really hoped that there would be a democracy in Iran,” Bozorgmehr said. “But the regime became oppressive and turned on leftists, liberals, and anyone who didn’t agree with them.”
Bozorgmerh said he often felt self-conscious when he saw newscasts of Iranian protesters chanting “Death to America” and similar slogans.
“I completed the courses for my program, but I extended my studies and got a job at the university because that was the safest place to be,” Bozorgmehr said.
Bozorgmehr eventually graduated, married and started a family. He applied for permanent resident status and eventually became an American citizen in the early 1990s. Because it was difficult to find employment in theater, Bozorgmehr worked as an insurance agent and in other jobs in the area.
Bozorgmehr said he and his family have generally felt welcome in Montgomery County, where he has lived for many years, but recalled an instance in 2000 where he phoned a representative of Montgomery County Public Schools to inquire about opportunities teaching theater.
“As soon as I mentioned studying in Iran and that I was a native of that country, she hung up on me,” Bozorgmehr said.
In the mid-1990s, Ali Nassirian, an internationally acclaimed Iranian cinema and theater actor, came to the D.C. area to visit his son. He decided to stage some theatrical productions and enlisted Bozorgmehr, whom he had previously met in Iran, as a collaborator.
In recent years, Borzoi has begun producing, directing, and acting short films. He appeared briefly in the “Tribute to the Flag and all Americans” video montage that aired during Super Bowl LI.
Bozorgmerh’s most recent theatrical endeavor was a one-act play titled “Searching for Hope,” which he wrote and directed. It was staged last weekend as part of Montgomery Playhouse’s annual one-act festival.
The play concerns an Iranian expatriate, Babak, who fled Iran and came to the United States at the time of the revolution. Now a successful college professor with an American wife, daughter, and stepson, he receives word that he has a son in Iran who is in need of a bone marrow transplant and that he is the only possible donor. Babak and his American family debate whether he should return to Iran, knowing that he might face arrest and persecution as an enemy of the regime if he does so.
“The most famous question in theater is Shakespeare’s ‘to be or not to be,’” Bozorgmerh said. “I wanted to present that question in a work that touches on the clash of cultures.”
Bozorgmehr wrote the script prior to the election of President Donald J. Trump, but said that his election had given an unexpected poignancy to the play.
“If Trump’s ban was in effect, Babak wouldn’t be able to go back and help his son,” Bozorgmehr said, referring to Trump’s executive order banning travel by American citizens to several countries, including Iran, which is currently awaiting a Supreme Court hearing.
“It was really interesting and educational to be directed by someone with firsthand knowledge of these sorts of cultural differences,” said actor Steve Kaufman, who played Babak.
“Montgomery Playhouse was pleased to present this piece,” said David Jones, producer of the one-act festival. “It was nice to be able to rub shoulders with another culture, even in this limited way.”
Bozorgmehr said he hopes to expand “Searching for Hope” into a feature film script.