Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Campbell is one of the librettists of the new version of “The Shining." / Publicity photo

Trans Actress Pooya Mohseni Headlines ‘English,’ Mark Campbell’s ‘The Shining’ Gets Atlanta Staging

When performer Pooya Mohseni first got involved in a reading of Sanaz Toossi’s play, “English” five years ago, she played the role of grandmother Roya. Five years later, she’s still in the cast, albeit with a different character. In the current Alliance Theatre production, she’s the pivotal character of Marjan, the teacher.


“English” is the winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In it, four adults are learning English in preparation for the TOEFL — the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which would grant them better opportunities, such as a medical school admission, a green card, or reunion with their family.


Mohseni’s mother was an English teacher and a lot of the character resonated with her.


“It’s a monster of a role because there is so much of an emotional journey that this character has to go through,” she said.


Before the play opened at the Atlantic Theater Company off-Broadway last year, there were concerns from the creative team about who exactly the audience was. But then it opened and took off, becoming the New York Times critics’ pick and winning several awards, including an Obie for Mohseni.


“It resonated so deeply with immigrants and teachers and even many members of the queer community,” Mohseni said. “Someone can see this play and think it’s about language, about authenticity, and about code switching. As queer people we know what that is, what it feels like to be ‘othered,’ to be told that you are not good enough as you are.”


Mohseni shudders at today’s society, where people’s rights are being taken away. According to the actress, an uprising started last year with the Woman Life Freedom movement.


“Women are treated as second class citizens, being forced to dress a certain way with no autonomy over their body,” she said. “If a man sees their hair or ankle or [another] body part, whatever it prompts in a man’s head or desire, they are responsible for it. That is the essence of victim shaming. That is one of the reasons I wanted to do the show with Shadi Ghaheri as a director; I knew that it would be the point of view.”


For Mohseni, coming out as transgender was a huge turning point. She was born and raised in a Muslim country in the ’90s and never met another person who identified as trans. Arrested many times for wearing short sleeves and having hair that was too long, she tried to commit suicide several times around 1994. Eventually Mohseni’s mother let her come to the United States and begin her transition.


“I came to New York in 1997 and at the time the city wasn’t a particularly safe place,” she said. “I was outed while doing background work on ‘Sex and the City’ in 2000 and left the business. There was no place for a young trans person of color. When I found my way back in, I didn’t want people to know what happened. I wanted to make myself as invisible as I could. But by the time I got to 2015 and marriage equality passed, I wondered what I had done all this for?”


She came out that year and has found success in theater and film, including a lauded performance in the independent project, “See You Then.”


Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Campbell is one of the librettists of the new version of “The Shining,” presented by Atlanta Opera and Alliance Theatre. The out Campbell has worked with Atlanta Opera several times on productions such as “Silent Night” and last year’s “As One.”


Stephen King’s 1977 novel about a family who comes to an isolated hotel, the Overlook, and its many secrets and ghosts was made into a 1980 Stanley Kubrick film. It’s not obvious source material to become an opera, but Campbell feels the novel translates really well.


“An opera for me — you have to care for someone,” Campbell said. “I don’t think we really care about [the characters] in the film, but you do in the novel. This is a family that is just trying to survive against the worst possible odds.”


“The Shining” premiered in 2016 at the Ordway Music Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota, presented by Minnesota Opera.


Campbell says some small changes are part of the new Atlanta version, including an aria for the lead character of Jack Torrance in the first act.


“He didn’t have a full moment to himself,” he said. “It turns out to be a pinnacle; the demons are beginning to take over.”


Campbell likes working with the Atlanta Opera and admires its knack for presenting new work. This is the East coast premiere of the show, directed by Brian Staufenbiel.


He thinks that to be gay in today’s society, one has to be open to many different kinds of experiences.


“There are very few working librettists in the world doing it for a living,” he said. “I have written LGBTQ themed, including ‘As One’ and ‘Stonewall.’ As a gay man of a certain age, I have written a lot about AIDS — and will continue to do so.”

“English” runs through Sept. 17 at the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage

“The Shining” runs Sept. 15 – Oct. 1 at the Alliance Theatre