Let Sharon Mashihi Whisper in Your Ear
New York magazine|February 1-14, 2021
Her strange, intimate podcast, Appearances, feels like a breakthrough for the form.
Emily Gould

Mashihi photographed by her ex-boyfriend Thatcher Keats on her balcony. He thought she looked like the third mop.

APPEARANCES is available wherever you get your podcasts.

MIDWAY INTO THE narrative podcast Appearances come three of the most compelling minutes of audio I’ve ever heard. As the series’ protagonist, Melanie, awaits the results of a pregnancy test, we listen to her internal monologue. “Every morning, I wake up, and in my journal I write the words I am alone,” she tells us. She meditates on how much pee can drip out of you if you sit on the toilet long enough. Seconds tick by; suspense builds; pee drips audibly. I listened, rapt, as I watered a friend’s plants. My body was sweeping up dead fern leaves, but my mind was entirely in Melanie’s bathroom. It was the first time I had ever felt as transported by audio as I have been by reading—felt almost inside another person’s consciousness. “Okay,” Melanie finally whispers, picking up the stick. “Not pregnant.”

It didn’t occur to me to wonder whether those three minutes had really happened, but that’s the question undergirding Appearances, a sweeping, metafictional podcast based on the life of its creator, Sharon Mashihi. Mashihi plays the 35-year-old Melanie Barzadeh as well as Melanie’s mother, Vida; her brother, Bobbak; her father, Jamsheed; and her nosy neighbor, Faribah—all of whom live in a tight-knit community of Jewish Iranian immigrants in Great Neck. We barely hear anyone else’s voice on the podcast except that of Melanie’s 55-year-old ex-boyfriend, Ponch, who is played by Mashihi’s ex-boyfriend Thatcher Keats. Mashihi’s performances—as vulnerable, scathing Vida and dull, hidebound Bobbak—create characters who sound immediately distinct. The only ones whose voices are (intentionally) difficult to differentiate are Melanie and Sharon, who pops up as herself occasionally. “I will admit to you,” Mashihi says, self-mockingly, in the prologue to Appearances, “these voices are exactly the same.”

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