How much do we know about Iran, its capital city Tehran, Persian culture, or its people? Due to the dramatic siege of the U.S. Embassy in 1978, the hostage crisis and the consequent forming of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country with one of the richest histories in the world unfortunately became synonymous with the word 'evil,' in the eyes of most westerners. Iran was even referred to as one of the countries in the 'Axis of evil' by former U.S. President George W. Bush, making it persona non grata, among several others, in the eyes of the world.
Director Lloyd Jones has also pondered on the question of how much we know about Persian culture and its history. When the opportunity presented itself, along with director Pippa Bainbridge, Jones chose to take on the challenge of developing Tehran, a short play devised by Elnaz Sheshgelani, and presented at La Mama Theatre, as part of its 2012 Explorations Season, to shine some light on the city and its people, which at one time was referred to as the Paris of the Middle East.
Tehran features a series of snapshot-like proses, songs and shadow puppetry which have taken inspiration from Forugh Farrokhzad's poem 'Conquest of the Garden,' a poem describing a crow's flight over a city, observing the lives of the people below from a vagabond cloud. The message 'Conquest of the Garden' conveys, is that the speaker resolves to live as she sees fit, rejecting societal conventions.
Elnaz Sheshgelani's Tehran combines readings from historic events which affected the region, as far back as the Arab's conquest of Persia in 644 to present day, intertwined with music and songs by Gelareh Abdollahpour. The songs are sung in Persian, but because they are executed in such a beautiful melodic heart felt manner, they manage to tap into the audience's feeling in such a powerful melancholy way, that no knowledge of the language was necessary to understand their meaning.
Readings of milestone events which affected Tehran and Iran overall were performed in a sometimes overlapping manner, with a slight echo in the colour of the voices, giving a ghostly or eery feel to them.
The shadow puppetry complemented and supported the other elements in the play, making for a sort of triptographic style of story telling, where one is not whole unless the other two are included.
The words 'everyone knows' and 'know my name' repeated over and over in a sorrow-filled tone toward the end of the performance, cemented a feeling of despair, giving the sense of helplessness felt by the people being observed by the crow, stressing that even though everyone knows, nothing can be done to change things, and a plea to know the victims' names, in order to render the situation more real to the observer.
Though Tehran was performed with great feeling and soul, the play does not automatically infuse the audience with an instant knowledge about its namesake city or its inhabitants, but it does crack a window open to the culture we in the West have not been privy to in the past 30+ years. Like pieces of a mosaic, works such as Tehran help compose a vivid picture about a people with feelings and aspirations no different from our own.
La Mama presents
devised by Elnaz Sheshgelani
Directorial assistance Pippa Bainbridge and Lloyd Jones
Venue: La Mama Theatre
Dates: 3, 4, 5 November, 2012
Part of La Mama Theatre's 2012 Explorations Season