Playwriting isn't a craft I normally associate with Chicago politicians, particularly ones like Jay Paul Deratany, a personal injury lawyer whose political ambitions are very much alive. In February, he unsuccessfully ran for the Board of Review, the county's property tax appeal body; now he's talking about running for Rahm Emanuel's open Fifth Congressional District seat.
Politicians generally have to watch what they say, and a candidate involved in entertainment runs the risk of alienating voters, as Al Franken discovered when some of his old comic bits were used against him in his Minnesota senatorial campaign.
"I don't know if writing a play will help or hurt my political career," says Deratany. "But I didn't write it thinking about my career."
The play--Haram Iran--isn't about Chicago politics, property taxes, or personal injury law. It's not even set in Chicago. Taking place in Iran, it tells the sad story of two teenagers named Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari.
In 2005, Marhoni and Asgari were charged with raping a 13-year-old boy and sentenced to hang. In the aftermath of their execution, a debate erupted over whether the boys actually raped anyone or were, instead, put to death because they were caught having consensual sex. For his part, Deratany believes the rape charges were concocted and that the case represents a gross violation of human rights standards.
Deratany says he found himself drawn to the story last winter in the days following his loss to Joseph Berrios in the race for a seat on the Cook County Board of Review. "After that election, I needed a break from politics for a while," he says. "I happened to see a story on the Internet about Ayaz and Mahmoud. There was some video of them."
It was a video that showed the boys locked in a cage. "I watched it and bawled my eyes out," he says. "I started reading up on the case. I was reading everything. And then I started writing."
It was not his first play. "I wrote a comedy called Two Grooms and a Mohel. I'd rather not talk about that--I don't think it was that good. I'm prouder of this play."
By the spring he had finished a draft, which he showed to David Zak, artistic director for the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre. "I'd known Jay for a long time," says Zak. "The script impressed me. I told him he had something here. It was a very moving story. It was timely--he has an ear for dialog."
The play is told from the point of view of the mother of one of the boys. "I was looking for a way to make the story universal," says Deratany. "Yes, it's about two boys accused of committing a homosexual act. But it's not a 'gay play.' It's a human rights play."
Haram Iran is running at the Athenaeum Theatre through December 9.