nytheatre.com review by Kyle Ancowitz
August 15, 2004
Mossadegh is advertised as a “new rock opera.” In truth, it is much more like a rock lecture, but rock fans, history buffs, and conspiracy theorists will have to agree that this heavy metal retelling of the 1953 CIA coup that deposed the sitting president of Iran is pretty frickin’ cool. In his program notes, creator and director Michael Minn indicates that the hassle of staging a full-scale musical under FringeNYC conditions burnt him out in his 2003 outing, The Irreplaceable Commodity; with Mossadegh, Minn reduces the stage content to four t-shirted men and their instruments. Of dialogue, there is none. Scenery, none. Costumes, props, none—save for some pairs of sunglasses that tell us when we are being rocked by a quartet of CIA spooks instead of someone else. What we do get is historical impressions in a straight-up hard rock set.
So what does it sound like? If the style is mainly early- and mid-eighties hard rock and metal, I think it has more to do with the storytelling function of the songs rather than the constraints of Minn’s tastes, and it isn’t bad anyway. I heard shades of Queensryche and Black Sabbath, but here that sometimes self-serious genre is blended with a satirical and sometimes morbid sense of humor. “Fight The Communists” (featuring the Dulles brothers) has a bouncy, clownish tone, and the Chuck Berry-inspired finale “Workin’ Fo’ The CIA” satirizes the right-wing pet notion that 1953 was a better time for everyone. The musicianship on the whole is solid; Bryan Essing’s double-jackhammer drumming is especially hot.
If you really want to learn about this surprising and disillusioning episode in American history (or the ineradicably destructive and mortifying same event in Iranian history), you might do better to read a well-researched work of historical non-fiction or the New York Times article that Minn cites in his program notes, or even see a film documentary. Some of those Iranian proper names are hard to remember, and hearing them rhymed doesn’t necessarily make it easier. But books still don’t have beats. There’s nothing shabby about the rock Mossadegh, and if you come, you might just learn something, too.