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"English" lessons on stage at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago

Learning "English" at the Goodman Theatre
Learning "English" at the Goodman Theatre 02:43

CHICAGO (CBS) — Learning English can open promising doors for many immigrants, but it can also close some unexpected ones, and its premise is at the heart of the Goodman Theatre's latest production, "English."

That's the theme of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize-winning play on stage playing through this weekend.  

A group of Iranian students is learning English to qualify for visas, graduate programs abroad, and a pathway to a new life. But as they immerse themselves in the language, are they turning their backs on who they really are?

Language is not only a way to communicate. It's also an expression of a culture. But can you also lose some of your genuine self when learning something new?  

The play is extremely personal to director Hamid Dehghani. Like the characters on stage, he struggled to learn English in Iran before coming to Northwestern University for graduate studies.  

"The moment that I read it, I felt this is my story. I have to direct this play. I could feel all the nuances, all the struggles, moments, situations that these characters are in because I've been there. I learned English recently in order to come to the U.S.," Dehghani said.

Language is an expression of a culture, so the director admitted that speaking another language is like entering another culture.

"That's totally true. That culture supported your identity, for me, Persian. So I feel a sense of loss," Dehghani said. "During the day, most of the time when we are in the rehearsal room, working with my colleagues, I am the English version of myself. Even I think in English. But that's not exactly who I am. Even though this is the new me, the new version of Hamid in English, that's not exactly who I am."

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