The Midwest Premiere


by Ayad Akhtar | directed by Ron OJ Parson
June 12 – July 12, 2015

Brilliant Pakistani-American writer Zarina is focused on finishing her novel about women and Islam when she meets Eli, a young convert who bridges the gap between her modern life and her traditional heritage. When her conservative father and sister discover the manuscript, it threatens to divide their tight-knit family. With humor and ferocity, 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar and director Ron OJ Parson examine the giant chasm between our traditions and our contemporary lives.

Want to learn more about the world of The Who & The What? Check out our guide:


The Chicago Tribune, Chris Jones

-WBEZ, Tony Sarabia

Sun-Times, Hedy Weiss

Listen to Tony Sarabia interview The Who & The What playwright Ayad Akhtar and director Ron OJ Parson on WBEZ’s The Morning Shift

Playwright Ayad Akhtar is Not Letting Up
Read the full interview between Ayad Akhtar and Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune

The Who & The What is named one of the “Chicago Theater Shows To See This Summer” by TimeOut Chicago

Chicago Tribune lists The Who & The What in their “Summer Theater Guide: 40 essential shows for the 2015 season

“A fiery and probing new play, crackling with ideas.”
-New York Times

Public Programs is an event series designed to enhance your experience by exploring the themes and issues within Victory Gardens’ Productions. Connecting our theater to the world beyond the stage and rehearsal room, Public Programs events bridge ideas, provoke dialogue, and deepen the relationship between our audiences and our productions.

After every performance of THE WHO & THE WHAT (unless otherwise noted)
Join us for one of our intimate post show conversations. Led by members from the Victory Gardens community—artistic affiliates, subscribers, Artistic staff, Teen Arts Council members, and community partners— reflect on what you’ve seen and share your response.

Past Public Programs:

Pre-­Show Performance | Special Afterwords | Saturday, June 13th | ​6:30p.m.
From Tinder to Grindr, technology makes it easier than ever to form unlikely relationships. But as Zarina discovers in The Who & the What-­ unlikely relationships can get complicated. What happens when Cupid and the internet collide? Hear Chicago collegiates speak out in a dynamic pre-­show performance, then stick around for a ​post­-show conversation addressing love and technology in the new millennium.

Town Hall | Sunday, June 21st
Hijab. Niqab. Burqa. These headscarves are symbols of religion, modesty, and womanhood in Muslim culture, but they are often misunderstood in Western society. In a secular world, how are Muslim women challenged and empowered to wear the veil? Join us after the show for this timely Town Hall discussion unveiling what it means to be a Muslim woman in America.

Pre­-Show Reception at Victory Gardens | Special Afterwords | Wednesday, June 24th | 6:30p.m.
Most world religions have sought to address the moral issues that arise from sexuality -­ and some of it isn’t very welcoming. For those with a strong religious upbringing, is faith ever compromised for a lifestyle? Come early for pre-­show refreshments from Fiesta Mexicana in the Victory Gardens’ lobby, then join in this special Afterwords discussion on religious and sexual identity.

Pre-­Show Reception at Victory Gardens | Special Afterwords | Thursday, June 25th ​| 6:30p.m.
Latino culture is often influenced by tradition. In this sometimes-­insular community, interracial dating and breaking bloodlines are frequently sources of intergenerational conflict. With so much pressure to honor heritage, how do new ways affect old views? Come early for pre-­show refreshments from Fiesta Mexicana, then join Amor Montes de Oca of Arte y Vida for a special Afterwords conversation on challenging customs and honoring heritage.

Special Afterwords | Saturday, June 27th
Playwright Calamity West once said, “Why do you call me a female playwright? You wouldn’t call me a female heart surgeon.” In a world where only 13% of published writers are women, do these writers have an obligation to tell “women’s stories?” In this crucial Afterwords conversation, join a panel of local writers as they expose the trials and triumphs of their craft in conversation with Ayad Akhtar’s The Who & the What.

Pre­Show Spoken Word | Friday, June 26th | Wednesday, July 8th | Thursday, July 9th
Thought-­provoking art tends to exists at the crossroads between the old and the new. Join some of Chicago’s dynamic spoken word poets as they share their experiences with old traditions, new perspectives, and fresh beats. Hear them before select performances of Ayad Akhtar’s The Who & The What.

Special Afterwords | Thursday, July 2nd
They may share a belief in Abrahamic ancestry and worship one God, but Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have a long history of conflict. With ever-­present tensions between these communities, how can they come together to create a future of acceptance and understanding? Join David Chack and others for this inclusive post-­show conversation shedding light on the world’s most famous faiths.

Special Afterwords | Tuesday, July 7th
You’ve seen the rom­-coms: interfaith marriage can get messy. But where movies end in happily-­ever-­after, real life couples grapple with difficult questions. When facing disapproval or even ostracization from their families, is love ever enough? Hear couples and counselors navigate questions of conversion and community in this special Afterwords discussion.

Special Afterwords | Wednesday, July 8th
Pakistanis are the second­-fastest growing immigrant group in the United States. Some come seeking educational opportunities while others strive towards economic prosperity. But when expectations of “the American dream” clash with discrimination and violence, how do Pakistani immigrants carve a place for themselves? Join us after the show for this intimate Afterwords discussion on community and opportunity.

akhtar_bw copy AYAD AKHTAR (Playwright)
Ayad Akhtar was born in New York City and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is the author of American Dervish, translated into 20 languages worldwide. He is also a playwright and screenwriter. His play Disgraced premiered in New York at LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater in 2012, won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and premiered on Broadway in 2014. His latest plays, The Who & The What (LCT3) and The Invisible Hand (New York Theater Workshop) made their New York premieres in 2014 as well. As a screenwriter, he has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. He has received commissions from Lincoln Center Theater fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell.
parson_bw copy RON OJ PARSON (Director)
Ron OJ Parson is a native of Buffalo, New York. He is the co-founder and former Artistic Director of the Onyx Theatre Ensemble of Chicago, and a co-founder and co-director of Ripe Mango Productions. Ron currently resides in Chicago, Illinois and is a Resident Artist at the Court Theatre. Ron has worked as both actor and director. Chicago Theater: The Chicago Theatre Company, Victory Gardens, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago Dramatists, Northlight, Court, Black Ensemble Theatre, ETA Creative Arts Foundation and Writers Theatre. Regional Theater: Virginia Stage Company, Portland Stage Company, Studio Arena Theatre, Studio Theatre, Roundabout Theatre, Wilshire Theatre, The Mechanic, Center Stage, The Actors Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, St. Louis Black Rep, South Coast Rep, Pasadena Playhouse, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, and in Canada at The Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Film/TV: “Boss,” “ER,” “Early Edition,” “Turks,” American Playhouse, Vamping, Ali, Barbershop 2, Primal Fear, Drop Squad. Education: University of Michigan’s professional theatre program.
rom_bw ROM BARKHORDAR (Afzal)
This is Mr. Barkhordar’s debut with Victory Gardens. Most recently he appeared in In a Garden (A Red Orchid Theatre, Jeff nom. for best Actor). Other notable Chicago credits: Night Over Erzinga (Silk Road Rising), Around the World in 80 Days (Lookingglass), The Elephant Man (Steppenwolf), The Hollow Lands (Steep), Mother Courage and her Children (Vitalist), Pravda (Timeline). Mr. Barkhordar has also worked at The Goodman, Griffen, Lifeline, Eclipse, Defiant, greasy joan, Trap Door, City Lit, Writer’s and regionally at Kansas City Rep. and Centerstage Baltimore. TV credits: Chicago Fire, Mind Games, Boss, and The Beast.
minita_bw MINITA GANDHI (Mahwish)
Victory Gardens: Disconnect, Equivocation. Chicago: Arabian Nights, Around the World in 80 Days (Lookingglass Theater); Muthaland, The Lake Effect, Merchant of Venice (Silk Road Rising); The Gift Theater, First Folio Theater, Halcyon Theater. Regional: The Arena Stage, Berkeley Repertory Theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Indiana Repertory Theater, Montana Shakes in the Parks. TV/Film: Recurring on “Chicago Fire” and The Onion News Network, Empire, Crisis, Betrayal, The Chicago Code, Parvati’s Golden Skin, The Legend of Amba, The Drunk, Brown Girl Problems, Muslims in the City. She travels and performs with improv troupe Wavelength and is a Pledge Host for PBS. Minita is the creator, writer, and performer of the solo show Muthaland. Represented by the Gray Talent Group.
susaan_bw SUSAAN JAMSHIDI (Zarina)
Chicago: Mecca Tales (Dramatists); Bethany (Gift); Seven Homeless Mammoths Wonder New England (Theater Wit/Las Vegas); The Arabian Nights, u/s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Lookingglass); Idomeneus (Sideshow, Jeff Award-Ensemble); Loom by Ike Holter (NWAC); The Small Dark Room (ETD); The Count of Monte Cristo & The Blue Shadow (Lifeline); Spare Change, Skin in Flames (Stage Left); Terman Vox Machina (Oracle); The Arab-Israeli Cookbook (Mir); Yasmina’s Necklace (readings—Goodman, Silk Road, Dramatists). Regional: The Arabian Nights (Arena Stage, Berkeley Rep); The Michigan Shakespeare Festival, The Crucible (Pittsburgh Public’s Young Co.). TV/Film: “Sirens,” Cicero in Winter with Daniel J. Travanti, A Cadaver Christmas. Webseries: “Muslims in the City.” Education: The Theatre School at DePaul (MFA), Second City. Represented by Paonessa Talent Agency.
shane_bw SHANE KENYON (Eli)
Chicago: If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet (Steep Theatre); Buzzer (Goodman Theatre); Season on the Line (House Theater); Hushabye, Where We’re Born, Betrayal, Sex With Strangers (u/s), Dublin Carol (u/s) (Steppenwolf Theatre); The Shinning City, The Seafarer, Shadow of a Gunman (Irish Theatre of Chicago, Ensemble Member); Trainspotting USA (Book & Lyrics); Big Love, The Petrified Forest (Strawdog Theatre); Kin (Griffin Theatre); Jailbait (Profiles Theatre); Mary’s Wedding (Rivendell Theatre). Regional: Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, Midsummer Nights Dream (Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre). TV/Film: “Empire” (FOX), “Chicago PD” (NBC), “Mind Games” (ABC), “Chicago Code” (FOX), Jessica (Folded Rose Productions), BLR (RM Productions).

Zarina (Susaan Jamshidi) and Mahwish (Minita Gandhi)

Zarina (Susaan Jamshidi) and Eli (Shane Kenyon)

Afzal (Rom Barkhordar)

Afzal (Rom Barkhordar) and Mahwish (Minita Gandhi)

Check out these images from First Rehearsal!

The cast and creative team of The Who & The What

Director Ron OJ Parson with Playwright Ayad Akhtar

Playwright Ayad Akhtar talks to the cast, creative team, and staff

Susaan Jamshidi (Zarina)

Director Ron OJ Parson


Rom Barkhordar (Afzal) and Minita Gandhi (Mahwish)

The creative team of The Who & The What