Four Questions With PPF Playwright Shayan Lotfi

Tania Thompson
 | May 17, 2021
Shayan Lotfi
Playwright​ ​Shayan Lotfi.

South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) has been a launching pad for many plays and playwrights, including David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel, Vietgone by Qui Nguyen and Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee.

Among the five readings at the 2021 digital festival is Park-e Laleh by Shayan Lotfi. The play follows Amir, who seeks asylum in the U.K. after fleeing persecution in his native Iran. But he’s haunted by what he's left behind. Now he's attempting to settle in a city full of strangers—looking for anything or anyone that might allow him to finally feel at home.

In an email exchange, ​Lotfi talked about his favorite places to write and the play that changed his life.

Shayan Lotfi
Lotfi's writing spot at the Millay Colony for the Arts.

About Shayan Lotfi

He has written a few plays and, thankfully, still wants to write. He has been fortunate enough that some really cool institutions—like South Coast Repertory, The Lark, Roundabout Theatre Company and Boston Court Pasadena—have helped develop his work and that some really cool residencies—like SPACE at Ryder Farm and The Millay Colony for the Arts—have fed and housed him as he tried desperately to be productive. When he’s not writing, he works as an urban policy consultant, splitting his time between New York and Los Angeles.

What’s your favorite place to write?

I have been so lucky to have had residencies provide me with space and time (and meals!) as I attempted to write in their idyllic settings, which include SPACE before the pandemic, and the Millay Colony for the Arts multiple times during the pandemic. These places are a testament to how productive one can be when untethered to day-to-day demands and distractions. This was my go-to spot at Millay. 

As a child, did you read stories in secret?

Not sure if I read anything in secret, but I didn't grow up in a house filled with books, so any reading felt a bit transgressive. I remember randomly picking out a copy of the Best American Short Stories annual anthology at the local library as a kid, and being transfixed by the short story as a form, and the diversity of voices and perspectives. I've read each year's issue ever since. 

When did you know you wanted to be a playwright?

Later in life (i.e. recently). This play is my first, and I wrote it whilst in an MFA program. I still feel weird proclaiming that I'm a 'playwright' rather than someone who happens to write plays, and I attribute that to having too much respect for playwrights. (Also, immigrants are some of the primary sufferers of imposter syndrome).

What play changed your life?

I didn't grow up with theatre, so it was actually a lot of cinema and literature that informed my sensibilities around narrative and drama. I do however remember seeing the HBO adaptation of Angels in America when it came out (long before I ever saw it on stage), and amazingly it does a remarkable job of retaining so much of what makes the play the masterpiece it is, and I just remember being awed by its ambition, scope, dialogue, humanity, fearlessness, and theatricality. 

What should audiences know about ​Park-e Laleh?

I hope they enjoy it! Or it makes them rethink a long-held assumption! Or at the very least aren't bored by it!

Watch this video interview with Lotfi for #PPFPlaywrights.
Learn more about PPF and buy tickets.