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'The Hooves Belonged to the Deer' by Makram Ayache

Now onstage at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre

Cylla von Tiedemann. Foreground: Bahareh Yaraghi. Background: Makram Ayache and Eric Wigston

Joe Szekeres

A disturbing theatrical work that rocked me right to my core. Theatre can do just that.

Two stories intersect and ultimately collide in Makram Ayache’s daring script.

Izzy (Makram Ayache) a young, queer Muslim boy and his family have immigrated to a small rural Canadian Alberta town. He has established one close friendship with Will (Eric Wigston) who later becomes Izzy’s partner. They end up at the local church centre run by Pastor Isaac (Ryan Hollyman). Isaac sees it as his duty and personal project to convert Izzy to become straight. In their later early adult years, Will and Izzy meet Reza (Noor Hamdi).

Pastor Isaac was previously married and was a widower. We don’t know how long ago that was. Isaac confides in his second wife, Rebecca (Bahareh Yaraghi), a Christian convert from her Muslim faith, about his frustrations in working here in this small town. Underlying issues threaten this family dynamic with the arrival of Isaac’s estranged adult son Jake (Adrian Shepherd Gawinski).

In an attempt to reconcile his sexuality and faith, Izzy invents an imagined Garden of Eden story: Hawa (Yaraghi) and Aadam (Hamdi). Hawa means ‘Eve’ in Arabic. Their relationship is forever changed by the arrival of Steve (Gawinski). And yes, the homophobic connection of ‘God created Adam and Steve’ instead of Adam and Eve is implied.

Anahita Dehbonehie’s set and Whittyn Jason’s lighting designs intriguingly create what appears to be an underworld of some kind. A ladder leads up to a huge circular hole. Is there another world up there? The stage is covered with sand. A pool of standing water is located along the apron of the stage. There is a bench around the three-quarters perimeter of the stage. Sometimes the actors will sit on this bench. On the wall prominently (and proudly?) sits a deer’s head. It looks as if there might be room for more displays of heads along this wall.

The actors are barefoot. To walk in the sand without shoes indicates perhaps a willingness to want to connect physically to the world underneath them. But is that going to be enough moving forward in this apparent underworld where one can also lose a strong footing within the sand?

There are beautiful moments of the imagery of deer as both majestic creature and victim created with Corey Tazmania’s inventive choreography. Ayache’s graphic script of colourful language and simulated sexual activity pushes the boundaries. Periodically the characters climb the ladder in possible search of something else from the world they know. There is an inherent and foolish sadness in doing this because the characters have no particular focus. Izzy and Will call themselves committed to each other while only living for the moment and any kind of immediate gratification from wherever they can get it. I’m reminded of Matthew 7:26 where Jesus tells those: “who hear these words of mine and do not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”

Peter Hinton-Davis directs with a remarkably clear purpose and intent.

Performances are focused and delivered with passionate intensity.

Bahareh Yaraghi delivers two interesting and unique performances. As Isaac’s second wife, she understands the importance of her marriage and vows in standing side by side with her husband on all matters of religion and faith. She does her best to help bridge the gap between her and Jake no matter the head-butting she receives from the young man. Ultimately, Rebecca is truly blind to what ultimately faces her. In contrast, Yaraghi’s Hawa is a demanding first woman of the world and expects her husband Aadam to be as clear in tune with the relationship as she is. It’s a big world out there and Hawa recognizes the responsibility she has in it while foolishly her mate does not when he begins the relationship with Steve.

Adrian Shepherd Gawinski’s blond-haired look and buff build Steve and Jake duly reflect the foolishness of Matthew’s Gospel teaching above. Gawinski carefully never overplays the physical and sexual attraction. Instead, his surreptitious glances in eye contact speak volumes about how he can get what he thinks about.

Ryan Hollyman is a charismatically trustworthy Pastor Isaac who cares about the young people in his community and wants to be of service to them. When the truth is out about Izzy, Hollyman as Isaac believably and humanely casts no aspersions while only gently asking the young man to do one thing. It is this gentle asking of Izzy that becomes foolish for Isaac. His ultimate confrontation with Izzy later in life is sickening and Hollyman handles that moment with frank and frightening candour.

Noor Hamdi’s disastrous friendship as Reza (friend to Will and Izzy) and mate to Hawa markedly changes the course of events in both stories. Eric Wigston and Makram Ayache deliver absorbing performance work as Will and Izzy. At the beginning of their love affair, they are provocatively untamed like the mighty roaming wild deer. But there is just a hint that perhaps (figuratively speaking) Will and Izzy’s heads may end up on the wall next to that of the deer.

Final Comments: A controversial story, ‘The Hooves Belonged to the Deer’ is sharply written and performed. It’s one that needs to be discussed after seeing it.

I hope Tarragon has plans for doing that.

Running time: approximately two hours and ten minutes with one intermission.

‘The Hooves Belonged to the Deer’ runs until April 23 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue. For tickets, call (416)531-1827 or visit

Directed by Peter Hinton-Davies
Assistant Director: Michelle Mohammed
Set and Costume Design: Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting Design: Whittyn Jason
Sound Design: Chris Pereira
Stage Manager: Fiona Jones

Performers: Makram Ayache, Noor Hamdi, Ryan Hollyman, Adrian Shepherd Gawinski, Eric Wigston, Bahareh Yaraghi

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