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Qahr-e Melli
Post-revolutionary dereliction on stage

By Soma
March 9 2000
The Iranian

Mohammad Rahmanian has two plays currently on stage. The two appear on intermittent nights in the same house -- Salon-e Chahar-su. Their subject mater and mood are widely disparate, even though they share the same actress (Mahtab Nassirpour) and actor (Habib Rezaii) on the lead.

According to the author, THE INTERVIEW was first conceived in 1985, part of a television program. It was a history program intended on introducing the audience to the Algerian revolution. Rahmanian had to research extensively for the production. That included books by the renowned psychologist and theoretician of the Algerian revolution, Franz Fanon. The studies led to an interest in the fate of revolutions in general.

"It doesn't matter whether it is the French or Algerian revolution," Rahmanian says in an interview. "For me, as an Iranian who has had the experience a revolution, the subject of a National Hero is a fascinating one. As a writer, I am affected by the conditions of daily life and I must bring these experiences in my works. It was as such that I wrote THE INTERVIEW."

He is, of course, too modest. THE INTERVIEW is not only the result of his daily experiences with the revolution ­ many people have been effected by the revolution, even those with books to read -- but have hardly gone on to produce scripts.

The made-for-TV program was never aired, and the director still doesn't know why. It was first in the long line projects that was never to materialize on stage or before the camera. Rahmanian did produce some plays for the state television but they were all by foreign authors. For eleven years he was not permitted to bring his own work before the public.

In 1993 he was permitted to stage one of his plays, TANBOUR NAVAZ, with the single reservation that his name not be mentioned as the author. That play was subsequently performed in the City Theater under the direction of Hadi Marzban. But Rahmanian's name had to wait until late January 1997 when THE INTERVIEW was first staged as part of the annual Fajr Theater Festival.


On a circular, rotating platform, we first see a man (then a woman) being asked questions by an intense streak of light coming from the director's booth. There is no face behind the light, only a voice ­ a man for the man, a woman for the woman. The spectator immediately senses that this is no ordinary interview, that it in fact borders on interrogation with elements of a psychological investigation.

The setting is intentionally unobtrusive. No stage props, trappings, or adornments to direct attention. A gray cloth hangs behind the interviewee, separating each actor from the other and the audience. Costumes are plain: white for the man, black for the woman. The actors are seated on a stool. As such, their movements are contracted.

Rahmanian explains that when he was a student of the well-known theater director, Hamid Samandarian, during one of the experimental performances in his class, the teacher advised him not to hide as much behind the mise-en-scène. It was then that the apprentice decided to confine himself to a play with minimal movement.

The Story

The story is unclear ­ its temporal progression erratic. The only Time is that of the spectator, who, as the play progresses, comes to a slow but a skeletal understanding of the unfolding plot. The plot is heavily political, the subject matter one that was prevalent in the post-colonial world of the mid-twentieth century.

Having seen and read Third World liberation movies and books of the sixties and seventies, the audience may find familiar ground. Psychology is an intrinsic part of the story's basic structure. The two characters can only be understood via their profile: who they were, how society regarded them, what they did, and where they end up.

Rahmanian maintains that THE INTERVIEW is the actor's play (and not the director's). That the play was written without any recourse to stage directions certainly bear's this fact. It also points to its modernist heritage: the actors must put themselves in similar psychological states of mind before they can inhabit the world of the characters.

Besides the stage that they share, there are only two circumstances that draw a similarity between the protagonists: the crime that they commit, and the derangement that they find themselves in. But a mechanism is at work here: evasion. Any "interview" immediately gives way to a state in which the interviewee evades a straightforward answer. "Every interrogation is also an 'interview'," proclaims the author. "Anyone who tries to uncover a concealment, in fact enters into this game."

The minimalist staging, the concentration on text, the singular beam of light, and the one-dimensionality of characters has allowed Rahmanian to masterfully bring out this facet of the play. The spectator is riveted by the dementia that commands the gestures of the actors, the intensity with which they are escaping their act. But the act that they are fleeing is one that is conditioned by an infinite number of elements. The characters are there to represent not the glory of the revolution, which produces National Heroes, but its downfall once the feast is over.

"For me the subject of national dereliction (qahr-e melli) is a fascinating one," says Rahmanian. "The two characters are leftovers of national dereliction, residues of a society that doesn't need them anymore, even while they fought for that society at some point." A post-revolutionary society that strives to regain normalcy, that tries to establish itself not as an ever-changing nation but one that can perpetuate stability, produces such fallen heroes.

But THE INTERVIEW is more than a political statement. The author/director has been able to find a dramatic language and tempo that can bolt the spectator to her seat, despite the fact that her ears are already replete with the subject matter (revolution, war, terror, and mania). The author maintains that the language of the play is not dramatic ­- "as we expect" it to be ­- but journalistic; that he has tried to bring an everyday language to stage. But he goes on to point out that the drama lies in the unfolding plot.

Hamid Amjad, another promising playwright who over the past two years has succeeded in staging three of his plays (ZARVAN, NILOOFAR ABI, and PASTOO KHANEH) to wide acclaim, comments on Rahmanian's play:

"In a proper dramatic dialogue, the character doesn't reveal her internal propensities. No character can mouth her desires completely, because the structure of the play inheres an obstacle along her path. A character that has no desire; or does have a stumbling block before her, is not a dramatic personage, and has no visual appeal Every dramatic dialogue, in one way or another, is a camouflage to hide the internal desires of the character, and not a mouthpiece for their exposure."

Amjad considers THE INTERVIEW an exquisite example of dramatic dialogue, because it is able not necessarily to shine light on the inner thoughts of the bruised mind of two young Algerians, but to establish a relationship between the dramatic personage and the spectator: "The characters try to evade and hide themselves, and our mind goes into gear to bring an order into the scattered world that has befallen them."

Eventually, Amjad believes, the spectator succeeds and order is brought into the theater. The spectator becomes accessory to the investigation taking place on the stage. The spectator helps the beaming light to string together the scattered mental elocutions emanating from the deranged minds of the character, and reveal the hidden circumstances that led to the crime. But it is precisely this order that is the death knell of the characters. Once their secret is revealed, they become condemned personas in a world where there is no room left for them. The spectator who has outlived the perils of revolution and war soon discovers that his very existence is a threat to the lives of the stage characters.


Despite its passé subject matter and the fact that it has been written more than fifteen years ago, THE INTERVIEW is an testament to the country's current predicaments. Iranian movie directors have tried to shed light on the situation of those who, having given their youth and passions to the cause of revolution and war, are left out in the cold by the new generation and circumstances that have emerged. But THE INTERVIEW has succeeded to bring the spectator into the equation, not as one who sympathizes with the characters, but as one who can sense the providential situation that they find themselves in.

As the modernizing drive of the new administration pushes forth, and as a new generation speedily occupies the centers of power in the Islamic Republic, it is important to realize that many of those left behind in the race to normalcy will not be as readily identifiable as Safieh (the lead character) and Na'im. Many will try to derail the process that has already been set into motion by appealing to extreme measures that may be characterized as terroristic. But the fact remains that the mechanism of evasion that the play attempts to bring out will be outstanding not only under the beaming gaze of the spectator in the theater but in the world that is occupied by the downtrodden.

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