The Drama Circle's visceral production of A Dress for Mona, Mark Perry's ripped-from-the-headlines drama about a teenage Bahá'í martyr, is a passion play masquerading as a full-fledged drama. Mona chronicles the horrifying ordeal of 16-year-old Mona Mahmúdnizhád, who was arrested, imprisoned, and executed by Islamic fundamentalists in Shíráz, Iran, in 1983 — just for refusing to renounce her Bahá'í faith.
Directed by Perry and performed March 28-April 6 in the Durham Arts Council Building by The Drama Circle, in collaboration with One Human Family Workshops, Inc. and Kingfisher Theatre, A Dress for Mona told its audience much too little about Mona and her Bahá'í faith for the audience to appreciate the issues involved. But the production featured radiant performances by Anna Santos and J. Chachula as the saintly Mona and her saintly father, Laura Graham's gritty portrayal of Mona's mother, and Helena Clauss' passionate portrait of Mona's friend, Farah. Mona and her family were innocents brutalized by bloodthirsty religious fanatics who screamed (in Farsi?) and threatened them in scene after scene.
What A Dress for Mona lacks is sufficient background about each of the principal characters to make the non-Bahá'ís in the audience care about them. Simply being saintly in the face of adversity is the stuff of religious pageants for the already converted who, in any case, already know the story behind the events being depicted.
To make A Dress for Mona more palatable to the general public, playwright/director Mark Perry needs to give his audience a clearer sense of who the principal characters were before they became martyrs, cut down on the unintelligible screaming in foreign languages, and streamline the over-large cast, so that fewer actors play multiple roles as barely distinguishable characters. Mona, for sure, deserves her moments in the spotlight; but she also needs a more three-dimensional portrait to command the attention — and inspire the adoration — of those of us who know far too little about the Bahá'í faith to appreciate some of the issues raised in A Dress for Mona.