April 11, 2000
Condemning here and there
In 1991, I watched a play by Reza Abdoh in the Theatre Center of Los
player"]. I had been a fan of Abdoh without having seen any of
his plays. I had been a fan because I had read about his plays and his
stage acts filled with anger, violence and sarcasm: visions that assaulted
viewers' senses like machine guns spraying card board boxes. To me he
was the epitome of non-conformist Iranians, the very end of spectrum where
none of us Iranians dare to trespass.
Even that forethought had not prepared me for what I witnessed that
night. On stage, there was a spectacle that I will probably never forget.
I remember a peaceful female cellist playing a requiem of sorts on one
corner, and in the middle of the stage, there was what resembled a house
cut across its cross section and rooms fully visible (or it could be a
prison with its cells visible, I couldn't say).
For more than an hour, actors and characters occupied these rooms in
various states of rage, frenzy and horror. The music, beside the cello
playing, was industrial noise. There were naked men wearing nothing other
than chadors and combat boots flashing themselves and screaming as if their
pain were boundless. There were chains stretched across arms, legs and
the length of the prison cells. There was water dripping on everything
on that stage in what seemed like a torturous stage trick.
The Los Angeles Times called Abdoh's work a "postmodern
baroque opera," but exhilaratingly bizarre was my way of describing
it. Nothing was usual about his piece. It was from the mind of a playwright
who had been never at ease with the world or with himself. The words to
describe the images on that stage were high schizophrenia and dystopia.
In my opinion, Abdoh was a man who was both immensely talented and exaggeratedly
angry, and he was combining both into a condemnation of both the culture
he was born in and the one he lived in. He would have been an immense
influence on others, especially Iranians abroad, had he lived long enough
to deliver his full potential into maturity. But with his life cut short,
he remains a wonder and a lamented figure like Sadeq Hedayat was, and I
think Abdoh was Hedayat re-incarnated.