Call Your Girlfriend: The Joy & Toil Of Friendship In "Wish You Were Here"

Julia Sears | October 17th, 2023

Call Your Girlfriend: The Joy & Toil Of Friendship In

Culture & Community  |  Arts & Culture  |  Theater  |  Yale Rep Theatre  |  Arts & Anti-racism


Anita Abdinezhad, Bahar Beihaghi, Shadee Vossoughi, Vaneh Assadourian, and Ava Lalezarzadeh in a scene from Wish You Were Here by Sanaz Toossi, directed by Sivan Battat. Yale Repertory Theatre, October 5–28, 2023. Photo © Joan Marcus.

We begin on the day of a wedding—but the ceremony we see is not of a bride and groom. Instead, five women gather at a mirror. The one in white asks her dearest and closest friends how she looks in her wedding dress. There’s a pause. Then one replies, “You’re like a sexy avalanche victim!”

These women, still young enough to love each other with their whole hearts, perform their friendship as rite and ritual. They do not yet know how they will change, how life will take them away and bring them back to one another. 

Sanaz Toossi’s brilliant new play Wish You Were Here, directed by Sivan Battat and now playing at Yale Repertory Theatre through Oct. 28, is not one to be missed. This funny and poignant look at female friendship will pull at your heartstrings and make you call your best friend the second you leave the theater. Tickets and more information are available here.

Written by Toossi in 2022, Wish You Were Here takes place in Karaj, Iran between 1978 and 1991. Precipitated by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, these 13 years saw protests, revolt, and the entirety of the Iran–Iraq War. But that's not what Wish You Were Here is about. While this context deeply informs the work, the story we see plays out in living rooms across Karaj and in the hearts of our five protagonists. 


Bahar Beihaghi, Shadee Vossoughi, Anita Abdinezhad, and Ava Lalezarzadeh, in a scene from Wish You Were Here by Sanaz Toossi, directed by Sivan Battat. Yale Repertory Theatre, October 5–28, 2023. Photo © Joan Marcus.

When we first meet this spirited group of young women, each seems to have a role to play. Salme (Bahar Beihaghi) is the sweet bride-to-be. Shideh (Shadee Vossoughi) the no-nonsense pragmatist and Zari (Ava Lalezarzadeh) the boundary-pushing airhead. Nazanin (Anita Abdinezhad) and Rana (Vaneh Assadourian) are the dynamic duo dreaming of their future in far away lands.

As the play moves forward, these archetypes quickly melt away in favor of more textured characters. Just as in life, each woman shows a different side to herself depending on which friend she is with—and few of them hold back when speaking candidly about their needs and wants as women. They speak like real friends do: On Salme's wedding day, one friend proclaims “It’s your day, we’ll smell whatever you need us to smell,” referring to her friend's (completely relatable) concern that her vagina will smell funny.

The humor, cruelty, and comfort leaves the audience with an intricate tapestry of these best friends after only one scene. And then the tapestry shreds. 

As the audience shifts forward in time, a grainy video of the women enjoying a day at the river plays on the white walls of the set (projection from Sam Skynner). This device is repeated throughout, even as the characters age and change on stage. It’s effective: they are forever frozen in time on a day when they are all happy and together. 


Ava Lalezarzadh and Shadee Vossoughi in a scene from Wish You Were Here by Sanaz Toossi, directed by Sivan Battat. Yale Repertory Theatre, October 5–28, 2023. Photo © Joan Marcus.

As the time shifts, so too does the composition of the group. In a scene set a year after the first, the women gather for another wedding, this time Zari’s. In familiar style, they prepare Zari for her big day with a fierce a commitment to the excitement. They coo “I can only have a good day if you have a good day.”

And yet, Rana is glaringly, achingly absent. She and her family have fled Iran, fearful of persecution for their Jewish faith. For her own reasons, she didn’t say goodbye. 

It’s here that the historic backdrop of the play comes more into focus. Between the first wedding and the second, the Iranian Revolution has taken place all around them. Pahlavi Iran—the monarchical government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi—has been overthrown and replaced by the Islamic Republic of Iran, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. One of the most entrenched hallmarks (and seismic shifts) of Khomeini’s rule was a focus on Shia Islam, which was one of many factors leading to an Iranian diaspora and instability of the country in the Middle East.  

Part of Toossi’s brilliance with this story is how she weaves in the quotidianess of war. Yes, these women are living through a revolution, a shift that will mark their entire lives, but they still have to figure out how to pee when the water isn’t working. The focus never shifts from their lives to the events outside: rather, they are bound to each other, their conversations and silences telling the story of war and revolution even when they are talking about entirely different things. 

One scene, for instance, takes place during an air raid where Samle makes up her own rules for backgammon, Nazanin complains about how useless the sirens are and Zari continuously bumps her head on the too-small coffee table she is half heartedly sheltering under. The political reality looms everywhere, but its presence serves to bring our friends into sharper focus. 


Anita Abdinezhad and Bahar Beihaghi in a scene from Wish You Were Here by Sanaz Toossi, directed by Sivan Battat. Yale Repertory Theatre, October 5–28, 2023. Photo © Joan Marcus.

When a few years later, Salme mentions she has not stopped looking for Rana, Nazanin asks “Still?” to which Salme answers “Of course.” This brief exchange brings the reality of the world outside crashing into the living room. Slipped between leg waxing and discussions of childbearing, these moments remind the audience of what's at stake for these friends.  

As time washes the friends in and out of one another's lives, Nazanin remains a constant presence. She is one half of a pair, left behind to reshape herself. Anita Abdinezhad delivers a sharp, gut-wrenching portrait of a woman with a hole in her heart. A queen of deflection, she is quick with a joke or an insult. But as she becomes close with different members of her friend group, Abdinezhad also reveals Nazanin’s tender underbelly. 

Alongside her, no one misses in this cast. Ava Lalezarzadeh brings a masterful growth to her character Zari, who begins the play pretending a pillow is a penis (more than once) and ends it as an extremely grown woman and a consummate friend. Sweet Salme, subtly crafted by Bahar Beihaghi, is a beating heart on stage.

Shadee Vossoughi’s Shideh is deliriously funny, delivering perfectly timed one-liners over and over again. Sahar Bibiyan must win the audience over three-fourths of the way through the show and does so handedly. And Rana’s powerful absence is matched with Vaneh Assadourian’s powerful presence.  


Bahar Beihaghi and Anita Abdinezhad in a scene from Wish You Were Here by Sanaz Toossi, directed by Sivan Battat. Yale Repertory Theatre, October 5–28, 2023. Photo © Joan Marcus.

Designed by Omid Akbari, who grew up in Iran and attended the university of Tehran for his undergraduate work, the set feels sleek and universal while also specific to the time and place. Light shines in through colored glass and each woman seems to belong there as if it is her own living room. Costumes (a nod to designer T.F. Dubois) seamlessly portray time, place, and the growth of characters, lending an authenticity to this recent past. 

Through it all, Toossi’s writing, and particularly her focus on humor, shines. Even in the darkest times, the women joke and tease in a way that feels deeply authentic. They talk about their most candid truths, their desires, their fears, all with a sense of play that is accessed only by the closest of confidants. 

As an audience member, you become a confidant too. You are invited into these women’s homes, their closest relationships. You get to be in on the joke, a part of the team. You witness the heartbreak of losing a friend and with that a sense of home, joy, and peace, and then the balm of finding those things again. 

Sanaz Toossi’s Wish You Were Here runs at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., through Oct. 28. Tickets and more information are available here