OPERATION AJAX Opens This Fall At Little Fish Theatre
The Los Angeles premiere of Operation Ajax opens October 3 at Little Fish Theatre. Suzanne Dean directs the true story about the 1953 CIA covert operation to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. Award-winning playwright Matthew Spangler (The Kite Runner), along with co-playwright and actor Farshad Farahat (costar, Academy Award-winning film Argo and Emmy Award-winning show House of Cards), discuss why this story is important, especially in today's political climate.
"In many ways, the current hostility between the United States and Iran starts with the CIA/MI6 coup against Iran's Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in August 1953. This is a story full of comedy, tragedy, and shocking irony. Mossadegh courted the Truman and Eisenhower administrations as allies. He paid an extended visit to the U.S. in the fall of 1951, where he was warmly received, speaking at the U.N., hugging the Liberty Bell, and meeting with President Truman at the White House. In fact, Mossadegh was Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1951. And most importantly, he was democratically elected and was a supporter of democratic values in Iran.
So why would the CIA, an organization that at only six years old was still finding its role in the world, want Mossadegh out of power? In hindsight, the coup - known within the CIA as "Operation Ajax" - was an astonishingly bad idea, and to some, it was a bad idea even at the time. The coup poisoned American/Iranian relations, led to twenty-six years of authoritarian rule by the Shah, and resulted the 1979 Iranian revolution. The apparent ease of the coup also inspired the CIA, in the decades to come, to push for regime change all around the world, in places like Guatemala, Chile, Congo, and Cuba. The play Operation Ajax explores the CIA's dark motivation for carrying out the coup in the first place.
We also wanted to explore the question of what motivates a group of people to commit a blatant act of injustice. Kermit Roosevelt - President Theodore Roosevelt's grandson, a history professor, and a father and husband - was the CIA agent entrusted to pull off the coup. What might Roosevelt have told himself to justify his actions? Was he motivated by the arrogant promotion of American-ideals overseas, naked colonial-supremacy, or something even more twisted and personal? What might the Iranian conspirators, led by the chameleon Mustapha Rashidian, have told each other to keep themselves in the game, especially when things started to go south? And how did they all successfully manipulate the dispositions of the Iranian people to destroy their own democracy and independence?
Finally, one might wonder how much poetic license we have taken in writing the play. The truth is very little. Nearly all the major plot points are historically accurate, including some of the most seemingly far-fetched: the CIA and MI6 covertly communicated with the Shah of Iran by temporarily changing the BBC Radio sign off; General Fazlollah Zahedi, the man chosen by the CIA to replace Mossadegh as Prime Minister, was arrested by the British during WWII for supporting the Nazis and this fact made him a good choice for the job, because, due to his Nazi connections, no one would suspect he was the CIA's man; Roosevelt's cover in Iran was that of a Canadian oil man, named Jim Lochridge, a cover he almost blew playing tennis at the Turkish Embassy when he missed a shot and said out loud, "Damn it, Roosevelt!"; and, as the coconspirators hung out in their Tehran safe house, they played cards and listened to "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" from the musical Guys and Dolls.
The play is all true and epically dramatic. Most importantly, it explores the roots of the current tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran."
Farshad Farahat and popular Bay Area actor Christian Haines reprise their roles from the 2018 San Francisco debut of the play and are joined by three LFT Company Members, who will be announced next month. The five person ensemble portrays 13 real and imagined figures from the events.
Tickets can be purchased online at https://www.littlefishtheatre.org/pond/operation-ajax/. Founded in 2002 as an artists' ensemble, Little Fish Theatre presents classic and contemporary plays in an intimate setting on Centre Street in the Arts District of downtown San Pedro.