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Theatre in Tehran: Macbeth, Yoosef & Zoleikha

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran

My experiences with theaters are a mixed one. Sometimes they were great and breathtaking, and sometimes they were simply too painful before the final scene was played and we could go home. However I always like to go and see a live performance despite the possible risks, and theater is sure one that I would indulge myself whenever I can. There is something magical about live performances of any kind.

I was very lucky last Monday. I had a call from a friend on Sunday night, who asked me if I was free; she had some spare tickets for Monday performances of 21st International Fajr Theatre festival. I rearranged a few things and there I went to meet her and see the plays.

The first play was Macbeth performed by Canadian theater group. It was definitely not the usual kind you may observe in Stratford or other classic Shakespeare places. It was quite interesting even if this production would be considered very modern by any standards. It might have been a little too much if your language abilities were not great. But, I am certain that still one would have found the performance interesting. The play was to start at 3:00 p.m. The majority of the audiences were students, but there were others like us as well as a few guests from the embassy.

The play was performed at Molavie Theater near Tehran University in the heart of Tehran on 16th Azar St. near Enghelabb (Revolution) square. A polite gentleman at the main door took our tickets, as it was free sitting, and we were led to the waiting foyer. Every time I have been to this theater to see something, the experience has been a good one for me. May be it is the low ceiling, or may be it is the saloon where performances take place. The saloon is a very large room, with rows of benches on four sides, all in black, for the audience to take their sits.

The guides assisted us to these benches, and once the benches were filled they directed the guests to the marked places on the floor where they could sit and enjoy the play. All this gives one a nice, casual, friendly, non-conventional and light enough feeling to be daring; the kind of feeling which I find most pleasing and refreshing.

The play started almost on time. What is most striking about such theater saloons, since Bretchet's time, is that actors mingle with and move among the audience. We had seen couple of other plays by Iranian companies last year doing the same things in a small saloon at the City Theater Center. A good percentage of the play was done along outside edges of the benches around the hall. Here, there was also a good use made of lights and specially sounds and good use was made of many different types of music.

All of the actors wore a black-simple-outfit and only a colorful cloth on their shoulders gave them rank and distinction in low light. Almost all of them played well, but we would have wished a little more from Lady Macbeth. I was touched by the passion and intensity of the performance on the whole and although one has seen better Macbeths before, I was very happy to have seen this version of the play. One must admire the good Canadian actors and their company that did come to the festival despite all that is going on. By the way, later we learned that Hamlet performed by another company was also very good.

We came out feeling so enlightened to have been to theater after such a long time. The last time I saw a play was about a year ago. Shame on me indeed, because many home companies put on very good plays during the year and all of them deserve better recognition and support for their efforts from the public at large. Most of these groups are mainly very young people with great passion towards their profession and you are surprised how good some of their works are.

We decided to take a walk as we were chatting about the play, actors' performances and other things, thinking of heading toward the famous confectionary store for some coffee or hot chocolate. Opposite Tehran University there are so many book shops that take you back to your student days and easier times in your life. It gave me real sense of nostalgia. After a short while I suggested to my friend, who is a university professor, that we visit a friend's bookshop nearby, as we had two hours before the next play. There, we were served tea and browsed around the bookshop and we both ended up buying many books. The bookshop has a delivery system and they will drop off all the books the next day. Like many, I go crazy wherever I go into a bookshop. I simply buy many books that I want to read and also copies of the ones I have read and enjoyed to give as gifts to my friends.

We said our thanks and our good-byes and left to walk to Roudaki hall for the next performance of the evening.

Everything was in good order when we arrived at 6:40. We presented our tickets at the gate and then at the special entrance for ladies we showed our bags and were politely asked if we had any cameras or videos with us, which we did not. It was so good to be back here again. God it was almost 20 months since I was here last. If you have not been or seen this lovely building, it is very simple yet elegant work of architecture. The ground and landscape architecture gives you a sense of peace and calmness in order to enjoy what you see/hear inside. The main hall's acoustic are very well designed. The seats are comfortable and the entrance hall is spacious and friendly to the eye. There was an exhibition on in the right hand side of this very large waiting foyer. This little exhibition showed small replica of many different stage designs for different plays by German theater stage designers. Some of them were truly wonderful to observe. We had time to have some fruit teas before the show-play started.

We had come to see Yoosef & Zoleikha (Joseph & Zulaikha), a Persian musical based on a famous old story, which was written and directed by Ms. Pari Saberi. Ms. Saberi was the first person who many years ago brought to stage very successfully what we must call a musical show, haftt shahre eshgh-e Attarr (Attarr's Seven Stages/Steps of Love). This was performed during the summer months at Niavaran open (Greek) theater, to packed audiences. I saw it three times, each time with a different group of friends or relatives. In her work, she uses mainly Iranian classical musical instruments; she works by collecting all poems and notes written about the story or characters that she plans to stage from books and article available on the subject(s) of the show, and an assistant puts music to these verses.

The show was almost two hours long and before the performance we were asked by the usher to move to the center so that when others arrive late there is less disturbance.

The performance was good. A couple of singers were very good, but one of the lady singers had an excellent voice, very warm and fine and I do hope that she gets the due credit. The play had 17 acts. Before start of each act, a narrator with a good voice, and great desire, like me, to move his hands, told the audience what was happening beforehand so that if you did not know the story you were not at a loss. This by the way comes from traditional Persian performing tales

The orchestra, consisting of about ten players, was sitting on two sides on the front of the stage close to the audience. One of the players was a lady who played tar. There was a good use of daff, one of my most favorite Persian instruments, as well as ney, which especially in the last acts made me feel warm and peaceful. I just wished that Zulaikha would narrate more gently, rather than giving you a sense that she was shouting out words all the time.

There was too much energy at all times. Also, the play may have been a little too long and may be the chores went on too long at times, but overall it was a good production. There was a ten minutes continuous standing ovation and the audience would not stop until Ms. Saberi came on stage and was greeted with huge welcome by the audience. We must admire the courage the hard work of all those who undertake such endeavor with so little resources.

I had heard many different views about this play and twice had missed coming to see it. However, later we had discussion with some friends about it and whether it was a good piece of theater or what? I don't understand why everything here must suit the intellectual tastes and criteria? I think that none of those who were involved in this production would consider it a theatrical excellence. It was a well staged musical play. A show, like many in Europe and America which we go see with our limited budgets when we travel, most of which are medium overall. However, when it comes to our home productions, suddenly everything has to be 100% excellent! It has to be good, well done, commercially and critically successful, well performed, well this and well that. What or whom gives such critics the right to be so opinionated. I can understand that some people may not like musical. It is fine, since some may not like comedy, as many may find serious play too heavy as their lives is already heavy enough. I hope and believe that we shall accept that different people have different tastes and not everybody has to come up to one standard. Let us accept our differences as a sign of more enriching society than anything else.

About the author:
Syma Sayyah is a retired business executive and marketing manager who worked for an international business in Iran. She has an MBA from Edinburgh University.

... Payvand News - 2/14/03 ... --

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