Night out on Broadway
Theater industry is as alive as film
January 21, 2000
Any country and many artists are capable of creating works that can
endure through the ages. But there are moments at which works of quality
can flower and spawn with ease and grace. Many accommodating elements have
to be present. At the juncture of modernity and tradition, at the interstices
of time immemorial and the political reality of the moment, the Iranian
society is witnessing a movement whose demands will determine the fruitfulness
of the artistic future of the country.
Two years into the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, an impeachment away
from losing the cultural stronghold of the Islamic Republic, the indomitable
Ataollah Mohajerani is driving his policies in the Ministry of Culture
and Islamic Guidance at a gallop. The flippant Ershad minister has been
able to keep the pace of reform within a battlefield that has not ceased
to see engagement ever since his name was forwarded as commander.
Since its very inception, the Islamic Republic came down strong on cultural
footings. If it is an overstatement to equate the rate of occurrence of
the adjectives "Islamic" and "Culture", it won't be
to claim that most of the times the two have been used interchangeably.
Not a public, municipal building can be found that does not adorn its entrance
with the vague designation "culture". Not an educational organization
to be found that does not claim to be a cultural one, to the point where
the word has lost all its semiotic significance and has come to connote
nothing in particular.
Yet, the Islamic Revolution has come to be regarded, in the main, by
its architects and subsequent power holders, as a cultural phenomenon.
Many, notably the Leader, have designated culture as the main field within
which the East/West, Good/Evil battles are and will take place.
It is not surprising that Ershad has occupied one of the most important
positions in the political hierarchy of the country. Heads of Ershad, along
with those of Radio and Television, in the past 20 years have had lasting
impact on the overall policy making of the Islamic Republic.
It may come as a surprise to many that the current head of the Executive
Branch, Mohammad Khatami, was an Ershad minister for a total of eleven
years before he was forced to step down from his position during the first
Rafsanjani presidency. In reality, he resigned after it became apparent
to him that a conservative 4th Majlis, having been just elected in February
1992 and ready to gavel in on June, fiercely opposed his post-Iran/Iraq
war policies and would not stop of anything but his ouster. Ironically,
the day he appeared before the Majlis to hand in his resignation (23 May
1992) corresponds date-for-date to the day five years later when he was
elected, on a wave of popular suffrage, to become president of the Republic.
Now, three years into HIS presidency, Khatami's policies of cultural
openness, which he tried to introduce in 1989, are back on the agenda with
tenor. At no time in modern Iranian history has the country been witness
to such a surge in cultural activity. This, of course, is not an objective
evaluation, but a simple observation.
To stop only at one example, the City Theater has so many shows ready
to be staged that it is hard to keep up with new ones appearing. The notorious
bureaucratic disorder that is in place actually ends up shuffling and bungling
many of them to the point where earlier in the year the director of BLOOD
WEDDING, Ali Rafii, threatened to abort the show (written by Garcia Lorca
and translated by Shamloo, and staged for a second time in the past year)
because, he complained, interjections by other programs (notably Shahram
Nazeri's concert in November) affected a discontinuity in the group's performance.
He didn't make good on his threat, and the audience kept coming back for
more, so to speak, turning the show into a box-office triumph.
The success of DANDOON TALA, a play by the renowned film director Davood
Mirbaqery, has pre-empted the showing of THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO
UI, a play by Bertolt Brecht, which was scheduled to start at primetime
in late December, but which was instead slotted to 4 pm with much delay.
According to the press, DANDOON TALA has been the biggest moneymaker in
Iranian theater history, raking in over 7 billion rials over a period of
Since two years ago, the City Theater has opened two smaller stages:
the Qashqaii, and earlier this month, the House of Khorshid. Both are low
capacity and easily sell out.
Merry theatrical matrimonies have also been consummated in the prolific
dominion of Ataollah Mohajerani. A particularly effective one seems to
be the 1997-established PARCHIN which boasts Bahram Beyzaii as a member,
but also well know directors like Hamid Amjad, Mohammad Rahmanian, and
actors like Mojdeh Shamsaii, Mahtab Nasirpour, and Habib Rezaii. Other
groups like NARGESS SIAH (currently staging Genet's LES NÈGRES in
the House of Khorshid) are also worth mentioning.
Twenty years into the Revolution of 1979, the Iranian theater is more
alive than ever. Though overshadowed heavily by its more prosperous visual
associate in the film industry, the theater is making it dent in ways that
can be said to silverline a dramatic promise in the cultural scene of the
country. Perhaps it is not too farfetched to expect a cultural renaissance
of sorts in the space that has opened since the election of Mohammad Khatami