"Explosion in the theater" by Ardeshir Mohassess.
From "Closed Circuit History" published by Mage Publishers.
By M.R. Ghanoonparvar
Beginnings of Persian drama
Under the Pahlavis
Under the Islamic Republic
DRAMA, in formal Western terms a relatively new art form in Persia, though various types of dramatic performance, including religious plays and humorous satirical skits, have long been a part of Persian religious and folk tradition. Ta'ziya is a form of Persian religious drama that developed in the 16th century and commemorates the suffering of Shi'ite martyrs; it is usually presented in verse and is the only traditional form of Persian drama in which written texts are used.
Traditional comic entertainments are usually presented on special occasions like weddings; they include baqqaal-baazi, ruhawzi or takht hawzi (usually performed over a courtyard pool covered with boards to make a stage), siaah-baazi (in which the central comedian appears in blackface), khiaal-bazi (shadow play), khayma-shab-baazi (marionette show), and 'aruasak-baazi or 'aruasak-e posht-e parda (puppet show).
Most of these plays have stock characters and involve domestic quarrels, lovers' conflicts, and relations between rich and poor. Traditionally they were not written down. Professional performers followed standard plots, improvising the dialogue from performance to performance. These performances were often used as vehicles for social criticism, particularly of high officials, the rich, and clerics.
Despite government censorship, religious restrictions, and public infatuation with newer forms of entertainment both traditional religious drama and comedies have continued to evolve to the present day, and modern Persian dramatists have drawn on them for their own works.
Beginnings of Persian drama
Modern Persian drama had its beginnings in the 19th century, when educated Persians became acquainted with Western theater. Students sent to Europe to acquire knowledge of Western technology returned with a taste for other aspects of Western culture, including theater. Initially Western plays were translated into Persian and performed for the royal family and courtiers in the first Western-style theater in Persia, on the site of the later Daar al-Fonuan. Molieàre's Le misanthrope was the first of them, translated as Gozaaresh-e mardomgoriz by Mirza Habib Esfahani with much liberty taken in the rendering of the characters' names and personalities, so that the play was more Persian than French.
In addition to direct adaptations, Persian drama was also indirectly influenced by Western theater through the works of the reform-minded civil servant and writer Mirzaa Fath-Ali Akhuandzada, whose plays, written in Azeri Turkish and published in a newspaper in the Caucasus in 1851-56, stimulated Mirza Aqa Tabrizi to try his hand at writing plays in Persian. Three of Tabrizi's four plays, written in the 1870s, were initially published erroneously under the name of Mirza Malkom Khan Nazem-al-Dawla in Berlin in 1922; later all four were published under the title Chahaar tiaatr (Four plays) in Tabriz. They deal essentially with government corruption and other social ills.
In Sargozasht-e Ashraf Khan (The story of Ashraf Khan), Tabrizi focused on the practice of bribery in the Qajar government. The protagonist is obliged to pay bribes to every official, from the king down to the groom, in order to continue in his post as governor of Khuzestan, where he expects to be able to extort a great deal more from his subjects. In Tariqa-ye hokuamat-e Zamaan Khaan-e Borujerdi (The method of government of Zaman Khan Borujerdi), Tabrizi examined the manner in which local governors coerced the people into paying bribes, and in Hekaayat-e Karbala raftan-e Shaahqoli Mirzaa (The story of Shahqoli Mirza's pilgrimage to Karbala) he addressed the family relationships of the Qajar rulers, also governed by greed and extortion. Finally, in Hekaayat-e 'aasheq shodan-e Aqaa Haashem (The story of Aqa Hashem's falling in love) he attacked the importance placed on wealth and the prevalence of superstitious beliefs and practices like fortune-telling.
These plays are not entirely successful, owing to Tabrizi's unfamiliarity with the formal aspects of Western drama; although some have been staged in recent decades, they remain important primarily to historians of Persian drama. In particular their themes are significant, comparable to those embodied in contemporary fiction and poetry. Indeed, Persian drama has remained primarily a vehicle of social criticism since these early attempts, though later playwrights created more sophisticated and experimental works.
From these initial attempts interest in Western-style drama began to grow in Persia in the later decades of Qajar rule. A national theater was established in Tehran in 1911, and a number of playwrights began experimenting with musical comedies and dramas in verse. Among the most prominent were Mortazaqoli Khan Fekri Ershad Moayyad-al-Mamalek (1868-1917), who wrote five plays: Sirus-e kabir (Cyrus the Great; Tehran, 1914), Sargozasht-e yek ruz-naamanegaar (The story of a journalist; Tehran, 1914), Eshq-e piri (Love in old age; Tehran, 1914), Hokkaam-e qadim, hokkaam-e jadid (Old rulers, new rulers; Tehran, 1916), and Se ruz dar maaliya (Three days in the department of finance; 1916).
Although Fekri Ershad's plays are technically superior to those of Tabrizi, they are focused on similar themes. For example, in Hokkaam-e qadim, hokkaam-e jadid he dealt with government corruption after the Constitutional Revolution in ways reminiscent of Sargozasht-e Ashraf Khaan.
Other contemporary playwrights included Ahmad Mahmudi Kamal-al-Wezara (1875-1930), author of Haaji Riaai Khaan yaa Taartuaf-e Sharqi (Haaji Riaai Khan, or the oriental Tartuffe; Tehran, 1918) and Ostaad Nowruaz-e pinaduz (Master Nowruaz the cobbler; Tehran,1919); Mirzada Eshqi (1893-1925), who wrote Rastaakiz-e salaatin-e Iraan (The resurrection of Persian kings; Tehran, 1916); and Abu'l-Hasan Forughi (1883-1959), author of Shidush o Naahid (Shidush and Naahid; Tehran, 1921).
Under the Pahlavis
When Reza Shah came to power in the early 1920s his efforts to westernize Persia included new support for Western-style theater. Nonetheless, the government strictly censored plays deemed critical of the regime.
Only those with historical and nationalistic themes, often glorifying pre-Islamic Persia, were supported and promoted by the government. Still, some dramatists of the period satirized the new preoccupation with the glorious Persian past and the shah's efforts to establish a modern military force. Examples include Sa'id Nafisi's Akherin yaadgaar-e Naaader Shaah (The last memento of Nader Shah; Tehran, 1926), set during the war with Russia and revolving around the character of an old soldier from Nader Shah's army, who dwells on memories of past victories, oblivious to the passage of time and Persian defeat.
Another example is H®asan Moqaddam's popular Ja'far Khaan az farang aamada (Ja'far Khan has returned from Europe; Tehran, 1922; 2nd ed., Tehran,1978), one of the earliest plays to focus on the comic confusion arising from encounters between Persian and European cultures. Moqaddam mocked the Persian penchant for superficial imitation of Westerners, on one hand, and rampant superstition and decadent ideas in Persian society, on the other.
Zabih Behruz (1891-1971) wrote the farce Jijak-'Alishaah (Tehran, 1923), Ali Nasr (1893-1962) wrote Arusi-e Hosayn Aqaa (Hosayn Aqa's wedding), and Sadeq Hedayat (1903-51) wrote Parvin dokhtar-e Saasaan (Parvin, daughter of Sasan; Tehran, 1930; 2nd ed., Tehran, 1954), a sentimental and nationalistic play.
After Reza Shah's abdication in 1941 there was a decade of relative freedom of expression. Various new political parties and groups used drama as a propaganda tool, and once again playwrights turned to sociopolitical themes. In 1947 'Abd-al-Hosayn Nushin (1901-71), a graduate of the Conservatoire de Toulouse and an active member of the communist Tudeh party, gathered a number of professional actors to stage translations of Western dramas in Tehran.
The initial success of two such plays persuaded a wealthy merchant to invest in the Ferdowsi theater, in which additional translations of Western dramas directed by Nushin were staged. The first production, a translation of J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls, met with great success and was followed without interruption by other translated plays until 4 February 1948, when the Tudeh party was banned and its leading members, including Nushin, jailed after an attempt on the shah's life.
Colleagues of Nushin carried on his work, however, in 1951 by opening the Sa'di theater, in which translations of Western plays continued to be staged with success. The Sa'di theater was burned in the coup d'etat of 1953 and some of its actors jailed. With the fall of the government of Mohammad Mosaddeq, martial law and strict censorship were imposed, and Persian dramatists focused their attention on techniques.
Even though a large number of theaters and theater groups were established in the two decades after the abdication, few critically significant plays were written in Persia, at first because of political confusion and then because of censorship. Nevertheless, this period afforded Persian playwrights and audiences the opportunity to become more acquainted with Western theater. Instrumental in this spread was the arrival of Patrick Quinby of Bowdoin College in Maine to teach drama at the University of Tehran. Classic European plays, including examples by Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, and Molieàre, and modern plays by George Bernard Shaw and Jean-Paul Sartre were translated and staged.
By the early 1960s a younger generation of playwrights had appeared on the scene, ushering in a new era in Persian drama, which lasted two decades, until the Islamic Revolution of 1978. Gholam-Hosan Sa'edi, Bahram Beyza'i, Ali Nasirian, Bahman Forsi, Bizhan Mofid, Esma'il Khalaj, Parviz Sayyad, Arsalan Purya, Abbas Na'lbandiaan, Parviz Kardan, Sa'id Soltanpuar, Mahmud Dowlatabadi, Mohsen Yalfani, Ebrahim Makki, Nader Ebrahimi, Mostafa Rahimi, Naser Shahinpar, and Naser Irani contributed to the flourishing of this art form in Persia. As a literary form drama also appealed to writers of fiction like Sadeq Chubak and poets like Ahmad Shamlu.
On the other hand, dramatists like Sa'edi and Beyza'i also wrote fiction and made films. Important factors in the development of Persian drama in this period were the continued translation and production of European, American, and occasionally Arab and Asian plays. They ranged from the works of classical Greek dramatists like Sophocles and Euripides to Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Friedrich Schiller. More significant, however, were the many modern plays by Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen, Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov, Bertolt Brecht, Max Frisch, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Samuel Beckett, Eugeàne Ionesco, Harold Pinter, John Osborne, Tennessee Williams, and Heinrich Böll.
This floruit of the drama reflected not only the relative novelty of the genre, with its potential for experimentation, but also the general intellectual climate in Persia, which was partly encouraged by the government of Mohammad-Reza Shah (1941-78). The Ministry of culture and arts (Wezaarat-e farhang o honar) established an acting school; a division of dramatic arts was added to the Faculty of fine arts at Tehran University; and Persian national television sponsored a theater workshop that produced plays for television and the stage. Beginning in 1967 the government also sponsored the Shiraz arts festival, which became an international forum for experimental theater, attracting Western playwrights and theater groups.
Nevertheless, the official attitude toward some notable Persian dramatists and their works was ambivalent. Although the government sought to promote Persian drama to international status, it was unable to tolerate explicit or even subtle criticism of the regime; many works were strictly censored. Such measures, usually coupled with harassment and incarceration of writers, resulted in frequent bans on publication and production of such plays as Amuzgaran by Yalfani and Hasanak by Soltanpur. It was perhaps partly for this reason that Persian dramatists, like Persian poets and fiction writers, took refuge in often enigmatic symbolism that had to be decoded by the audience.
Fascinated by this situation, playwrights became even more interested in innovative techniques. Forsi represented a generation of younger playwrights who seemed to focus their work on experimentation with metaphor, symbol, and language. The language and form of his first play, Goldaan (The vase; Tehran, 1961), attracted the attention of the critics.
More advanced examples of this school include the work of Na’lbandian, whose first play, Pazhuhesh-i zharf wa setorg wa now dar sangvaarahaa-ye daawra-ye bist-o-panjom-e zamin-shenaasi (Profound, strong, and new research on the fossils of the twenty-fifth geological era; 1968), which was performed at the Shiraz arts festival in 1968, alluded to various Persian and non-Persian traditions that even many educated Persians found difficult to decipher.
Even the works of more popular playwrights like Sa'edi, who wrote under the pseudonym Gowhar Morad, were often characterized by similar approaches. For example, in Maah-e 'asal (1976), an allegory in which Persia in the 1970s is presented as a police state, a newlywed couple is forced by a government agency to accept an oddly dressed old woman as a permanent guest in their apartment. Before long their personal relationship is under the absolute control of the woman and the agency she represents. Through a series of arbitrary actions and nonsensical speeches the couple has been totally brainwashed by the end of the play.
Not all of Sa'edi's plays belong to the theater of the absurd, however; in fact, despite his use of symbols to convey several levels of meaning, he is often described as a realist, probably because he set his works in everyday urban and rural situations and dealt with topical issues. He was a particular master of dialogue reflecting all walks of Persian life, which enhanced the realistic character of his work.
The works of Beyza'i, whose book Nemaayesh dar Iraan, is the definitive work on the history of Persian theater since the mid-1960s, are also characterized by language, style, and symbolism that require deciphering by a sophisticated audience.
Chahaar sanduq (Four boxes; Tehran,1979), written in 1967, is a study of how a society manufactures its own dictators. Four characters appear on stage as four colors: yellow, green, red, and black, symbolizing intellectuals, clergy, merchants, and laborers respectively. At the beginning, in order to safeguard the interests of his own class, each contributes to the making of a scarecrow as guardian against some unknown external threat. Soon, however, the scarecrow comes to life and is able to break their alliance and force them to build four boxes, in which each is confined. This confinement is, however, self-imposed, for each character is more afraid of the others than of the despotic scarecrow.
Beyza'i, who is also a successful filmmaker, is known for mythical and historical characters caught in ontological dilemmas. In his plays he succeeds in presenting universal philosophical ideas in fully dramatic terms. His language is poetic, in both formal and colloquial Persian; in the latter he achieves this effect by means of rapid rhythmic exchanges among characters.
Other playwrights of the period relied on more traditional forms. Beyza'i himself used such forms in many of his plays. Nasirian, a well-known actor, writer, and director in both theater and films, relied on them extensively. His Siaah (Black) and Bongaah-e teaatraal Nemaayesh-e takht-hawzi dar do bakhsh (The theatrical agency. A takht-hawzi show in two parts, 1978) are modern adaptations of ruhawzi and takht-hawzi. For subject matter he often turned to old Persian tales, as in Bolbol-e sargashta (The wandering nightingale; 2nd ed., Tehran, 1975), a reworking of a popular children's story. Nevertheless, his guiding themes were contemporary social issues, particularly the clash between traditional and newer ways of life.
Mofid also drew on Persian tales. His Shahr-e qessa (City of tales; Tehran, 1969), perhaps the most popular of all Persian plays, was written in traditional rhythmic style that resulted in a kind of musical drama. Although it seems at first glance to have been written for children, its main audience, it is in fact a parable about contemporary sociopolitical issues.
Akbar Radi, one of the realist playwrights, set his works in Gilaan province and on the Caspian shores. The critically acclaimed Oful (The descent; Tehran, 1964) and Sayyaadaan (The Fishermen; Tehran,1969; 2nd ed., 1976) established his reputation. In the former he focused on the conflict between generations: A young engineer tries to introduce changes on the estate of his wealthy and old-fashioned father-in-law. In Sayyaadaan a group of fishermen rise up against a large fishing firm but are defeated. In Marg dar paa'iz (Death in the autumn; Tehran, 1970) Radi dealt with the disintegration and destruction of the way of life of an old farmer and his family, symbolized by the departure of the farmer's son, who fears being drafted into the army, and by the death of the farmer's only horse, which could have helped him work in his old age. Radi's incorporation of colloquial Persian, especially the dialects of the northern provinces, may also help to preserve threatened aspects of local culture.
Khalaj, whose generally realistic plays are focused on the urban poor, addicts, pimps, and prostitutes, achieved his effects with minimal dialogue. A typical play is Paatugh (The hangout; Tehran, 1971), set in a teashop in the infamous red-light district of Tehran before the Islamic Revolution. Hosayn, a tough, is in love with the prostitute Zari and wishes to marry her, but she is unfaithful; at the end of the play he learns that she is having a relationship with one of his old friends.
Khalaj wrote other plays on similar themes. For example, in Goldun Kaanom (Mrs. Goldun; Tehran,1971) he experimented with techniques perhaps inspired by the cinema. In the published editions of his plays he used a peculiar transcription of Persian in which silent letters are omitted and a single letter stands for several letters that have the same sound in Persian. They are thus difficult to read. His focus on a segment of Persian society with which most of his audience was not familiar was a form of implied social criticism.
Under the Islamic Republic
Political allegories and plays implicitly criticizing the Persian government and social institutions, as well as dramas dealing with the influence of alien, particularly Western, cultures and social ills like poverty, prostitution, and drug addiction, remained popular in the Persian theater until the Revolution. As government censorship and control diminished in the late 1970s and before new censorship measures were imposed after the Revolution there was a brief period during which enigmatic symbolism gave way to more direct political expression in the Persian theater, sometimes by less well-known but politically active playwrights.
Mahmud Rahbar, in Qaanun (The law; Tehran, 1977) wrote about a prominent senator near the end of the Pahlavi period who finds himself in jail after having served the regime faithfully for many years. His dialogue with a general gave Rahbar the opportunity to expose unethical practices of the government. Another example is Faramarz Talebi's Padegan dar Shaamgaah (The barracks in the evening; Tehran,1977); it deals with military brainwashing of simple young villagers, which turns them into killers of demonstrators.
During this period Soltanpur wrote his popular Abbas Aqa, kargar-e Iraan naasionaal (Abas Aqa, worker for the Iran National Company), which was reportedly performed in the streets. The period of comparative freedom of expression was very brief, however, and ended with the triumph of the Islamic Revolution; Soltanpuar was executed for leftist activities in the spring of 1981, and censorship was reimposed on all the Persian arts.
Even before the Islamic Revolution Persian religious authorities and devout people had strongly disapproved of Western-style theater, which, like the cinema, was regarded as sinful. Particularly among older generations few such people ever visited a theater. Naturally, after the Revolution many assumed that at least a temporary suspension of dramatic performances would ensue, a view seemingly confirmed by the harsh treatment of individuals connected with the performing arts and the flight abroad of many Persian playwrights, actors, and directors (Sa'edi, 1984).
In fact, in the months before the Islamic government was able to consolidate its power a variety of literary journals and other works were published without censorship, but this freedom did not last long. With the start of the war with Iraq in 1980 and the growing power of the Islamic regime to impose internal controls, various official and semiofficial government agencies began to review materials written and produced for the theater.
Contrary to expectations, however, the government found dramatic performances useful propaganda tools, and the expected taboo on drama never fully materialized. Nevertheless, the official attitude has been ambivalent, perhaps reflecting the continuing struggle between conservative religious groups and more liberal factions. The former have remained suspicious of modern art as a manifestation of anti-Islamic and Western cultural influence.
On the whole the 1980s should be considered a transitional period in Persian drama. Two factors contributed to heightening the changes in this genre beyond those in other literary forms. First, the sociopolitical content of plays was transformed, owing to alterations in the political system and, more important, a fundamental transformation in the general values and social attitudes of the Persian people.
Second, in the staging of plays official attitudes on issues like dress restrictions for both men and women and the interaction between male and female performers dictated changes in playwriting itself. At the same time more conventional storytelling techniques replaced the experimentation of the 1960s and 1970s and helped to attract general audiences. Experimentation remains important in the Persian theater, however.
Postrevolutionary Persian drama can be classified in two general categories: plays written in Persia under Islamic rule and plays written by Persians living abroad. In Persia government restrictions have promoted direct propaganda in support of the regime and its objectives, as well as mandating adherence to the new social mores. Incentives are provided by various government agencies, especially the Ministry of culture and Islamic guidance (Wezaarat-e farhang o ershaad-e eslaami), that finance theater groups throughout Persia and organize theater festivals. As a result dozens of amateur and professional groups have appeared, and there are many young playwrights.
In 1988, for instance, it was reported that the number of theatrical groups had reached 100. In January 1989 some of them presented fifty-two plays at the Fajr theater festival in Tehran. A number of journals and other publications regularly include reports on the theater and interviews with younger playwrights and directors.
Most dramatists continue on the course established in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, a play by Salman Farsi Salehzehi, Aab, baad, khaak (Water, wind, land; Tehran, 1989), written in 1987, deals with conflicts between peasants and landlords. It opens with a peasant uprising, but the landlords, represented as torchbearers, though driven from the villages, have not given up and return to set the wheat fields on fire. Sacrifice by the village headman and other villagers is required to protect the crops and prevent the return of the old order. This theme was not new in Persian drama, having been treated by Sa'edi and other earlier dramatists. Formally Salehzehi made use of symbolic actions in several scenes that are at times reminiscent of the work of Beyza’i.
Another example is Shegerd-e aakher (The last technique; Tehran,1989) by Hamid-Reza A'zam, written in 1986. It is a work of propaganda in the service of the regime and its role in the war with Iraq. The audience, however, may not recognize it as a religious play or one with Islamic overtones. A'zam chose as his protagonist a traditional naqqaal, who has told tales from the Shaah-naama in teahouses all his life and acquired a great reputation. In the course of his career he has trained a number of apprentices. As the story unfolds through a performance by him and one of the apprentices, the audience expects to hear stories from the Persian epic tradition, particularly the battle of Rostam and Sohraab. But the old naqqaal, having become aware of the heroism of the young people fighting in the war with Iraq, tells their story instead, in the traditional language of performance. More important, he decides to experience heroism and the battlefield at first hand, the "last technique" of the title, which in effect he teaches to the younger naqqaal and the audience.
Among playwrights who had already gained a reputation before the Revolution and remained active under Islamic rule, Beyza'i and Radi are the most prominent. Beyza'i, still a prolific playwright, director, and filmmaker, wrote and produced Marg-e Yazdegerd (The death of Yazdegerd) in 1979). The play is his deconstruction and reconstruction of the murder of Yazdegerd III by a miller in 651, revealing a thematic parallel between the shah's departure from Persia and the story of the last Sasanian king, who escaped from his capital in hopes of raising an army to return and fight the Arab invaders of Persia.
More directly topical is Radi's Ahesta baa gol-e sorkh (Slowly with the rose), produced in 1988. It is a psychological and sociological study of a Persian family, focusing on the different value systems underlying the imminent external and internal changes in Persian society. Another noteworthy play is Man be baaga-e 'erfaan (I to the garden of mysticism) by Pari Saberi, highlighting the mystical dimensions of the life and work of the poet Sohrab Sepehri (1928-80). It was staged in an abstract form with dance and music and received negative reviews from critics in Persia, but it was a significant box-office success, owing to public interest in Sepehri.
Although restrictions on expression of antiestablishment sentiments and themes that do not conform to the religious and revolutionary guidelines laid down by the Islamic government have promoted a kind of Persian propaganda theater, the absence of such restrictions outside Persia has resulted in quite another sort of propaganda theater. Persian dramatists have continued to write in exile, particularly in Europe and the United States.
The most renowned among them is Sa'edi, who until his death in 1985 continued to write prolifically and published a number of plays, beside contributing articles and short stories to the journal Alefbaa, which he published in France. His best-known plays written in exile are Pardadaaraan-e aayina-afruz (The mirror-polishing storytellers) and Otello dar sarzamin-e 'ajaayeb (Othello in wonderland), published posthumously in a single volume (Paris,1986).
The first is an antiwar play in which Sa'edi also made use of the naqqaali tradition. It is performed by three pardadaars (storytellers) with large canvases on which scenes from the war with Iraq are depicted; various portions of the canvases are lit in turn to accompany the narrations. In the first act two pardadaars tell the general story of modern warfare and destruction; in the second, a black comedy, the third tells of two families whose sons are martyred in the fighting with Iraq. Although the tone is satirical, the antiwar message is clear throughout.
Otello dar sarzamin-e 'ajaayeb is even more satirical. Sa'edi took advantage of the Islamic regime's stated support for the arts, particularly the theater, to create a farce about the production of Shakespeare's Othello in Persia, where it is transformed into a propaganda tool for the revolutionary government and its opposition to the superpowers. Under official supervision and watched by a revolutionary guard armed with a machine gun, the director and actors are forced to transform the character of Othello into a revolutionary fighter representing the downtrodden and Iago into a counterrevolutionary. Even Shakespeare, sometimes called Brother Shakespeare and confused by the official in charge with the character of Othello in the play, is thought to have been a Muslim who lived, anachronistically, in pre-Islamic times. The government agents also force the female actors to cover themselves from head to foot in full Islamic dress and even object to Othello's speaking affectionately to Desdemona.
A second well-known figure in the Persian theater in exile is Sayyad, who, in addition to his very active role in the production of several films, has also written and staged a number of plays in the United States, including Mohaakama-ye sinemaa Reks (The Rex cinema trial) and Khar (Jackass). The former deals with the deaths of about 400 people in a fire at the Rex cinema in Abadan in 1977 and the question of who was responsible for the arson. In the staged trial of several officials of the shah's regime, accused by the new Islamic government of the crime, Sayyad presents a skeptical view of justice in Islamic Persia, intimating that the actual perpetrators of the crime are the judges and prosecutors in a farcical kangaroo court.
Khar deals with the issue of imposed conformity in Persian society; the actors wear masks to represent this conformity. At the end of the play some of the characters reject uniformity of thought, but all turn into jackasses with no consciousness even of their own metamorphosis.
Yalfani has published a number of plays in France in recent years. He is essentially interested in psychological states and underlying tensions in relationships between individuals and chooses for his characters mainly young Persian revolutionaries. He generally begins with a stereotypical revolutionary and then focuses on him as an individual, providing the audience with a subtler view and an opportunity for self-examination, both as revolutionaries and as human beings.
In Molaaqaat (Visit;1990), written in 1979, a husband and wife who appear to be truly in love reveal when she visits him in jail that their commitment to their cause is more important to them than their relationship. Qawitar az Shab (Stronger than the night; Paris, 1990), set in the Islamic Republic, is about a group of revolutionaries in a "safe house"; for some of them being revolutionaries has become a way of life, justifying even their escape into exile, while others are simply caught in a web from which they are trying to free themselves. In Bonbast (Dead end; Paris, 1990) a former revolutionary, who has broken with the cause in order to live a normal life, comes to the realization that he will suffer from hallucinations and guilt for the rest of his life.
From this brief survey of modern Persian drama some general conclusions can be drawn. As in the immediate prerevolutionary period, the themes of Persian drama continue to be predominantly sociopolitical. In prerevolutionary Persia antiestablishment art became an unofficial institution, often tolerated by the regime if the message was not openly stated, but in the 1980s sociopolitical concerns were more overt, perhaps because most plays published and staged in Persia must receive a seal of approval from the Islamic regime and in some way further its ideology. At the same time Persian drama in exile is often overtly political because playwrights are free from government censorship.
Since the Islamic Revolution plays written both in Persia and abroad have been affected by the religious attitudes and terminology of the regime. Playwrights working in Persia must consciously practice self-censorship and restrict their work in terms of the dress, actions, and appearance of their characters, in order to receive permission for performance.