Preview: Burnt City at Interpreters Theatre



Josh Hamzehee’s “one-Persian” show, “Burnt City: A One-Persian Show about U.S.-Iran Relations,” will be performed in the Interpreter’s Theatre March 5 through 7 at 7:30 p.m.


International relations, a dystopian future and 80s wrestling all play a part of Josh Hamzehee’s upcoming production. From March 5-7, Hamzehee will be putting on his own “one-Persian” show, entitled “Burnt City: A One-Persian Show about U.S.-Iran Relations,” at 7:30 p.m. at the UNI Interpreters Theatre.

“Overall, it’s a play about U.S.-Iran relations,” said director, writer and sole performer of “Burnt City,” Josh Hamzehee.

“It compares the local to the global. I noticed from my upbringing, being half-Persian and half-white, that I was culturally pulled in different directions. I noticed that my home life seemed to be very similar to that pulling of directions between the government and its citizens. I went on a journey, creating this show to compare the idea of domestic violence to government and citizen relations. Was there gaslighting in both?” he said.

In order to make the play’s topic more accessible to the audience, Hamzehee included a lot of humor in the production. In addition to poetry, the performance also features a combination of the English and Farsi languages. Hamzehee said that through his performance, he wants to throw Americans into a culture that isn’t as anti-American as it is sometimes made out to be.

“In the show there’s a homage to 80’s wrestling with Hulk Hogan and Iron Sheik,” Hamzehee said. “I noticed how similar it was to geopolitical relations, where Iron Sheik leaned into being the villain. He needed to be the villain for Hulk Hogan to be thrown into the spotlight. I felt that it was really similar to the U.S.-Iran relations. That’s kind of how it started, then it branched out to the personal stuff that I feel in relation to this. How was my upbringing diving into that? What was happening globally and do these have any relation to each other?”

Despite the serious subject matter of the show, Hamzehee included a lot of humor within “Burnt City” because he feels as if humorous statements have a bit of truth in them. For example, the show features a scene with an immigrant from Iran and Hamzehee said through it, he wanted to help an audience that may not be familiar with the topic to become invested through laughter. Through humor, Hamzehee said that he is trying to provide a path that makes the show easier for audiences to understand while balancing its heavier elements.

“Way at the beginning, I went into a deep dive and found this deep city,” Hamzehee said.

“It’s a 6,000-year-old city in Iran called Burnt City. I have an ancestral lineage back to that, which is interesting. Second, I went back into my father’s and grandfather’s stories about how they existed in Iran and how my father came over here during the Iranian Revolution. Even though we haven’t exactly had the best relationship, it’s meant to acknowledge some of the sacrifices that he’s made as well. It’s supposed to humanize him too; it’s not just the bad stuff,” he said.

In addition to information about his parents and grandparents, the play also covers Hamzehee’s upbringing and how he was raised in between cultures.

One of his favorite parts of the show was being able to work with Grace Mertz and a variety of students at UNI. He said that he felt that the labor and support that he received from them was a huge help. Hamzehee’s favorite parts of the script is when he eats fire and another section in which he dances around wearing a variety of carpets.

Several challenges were present as Hamzehee put together the play. Because the relationship between the U.S. and Iran is a complicated one, he struggled to narrow it down into something that the audience can digest. He only has 45 minutes within the presentation, so he had to find a way to make it accessible while addressing a multitude of issues.

When UNI students leave his performance, there’s one main thing that Hamzehee hopes that they get out of it.

“I want them to take into account that even though other countries and other cultures seem so far away, they matter,” he said.

“It’s all cyclical, it all ties into each other. Stuff that you go through as a kid, that all came from somewhere as well. Where did your parents learn to parent you? Is that just how their parents parented them? Or is that also other power dynamics that kind of supervised them throughout their life? It’s supposed to make your parent’s experience human, even if you haven’t had the best relationship. The world seems bigger than it is and hard to handle, this starts taking a stab at it rather than pushing it away because you don’t understand it,” Hamzehee said.

Admission to the play “Burnt City: A One-Persian Show about U.S.-Iran Relations” is free and ticket reservations can be made online on Eventbrite.