Post-revolutionary dereliction on stage
March 9 2000
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
THE INTERVIEW: The Stage
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
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
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.