`A just-born child'

Print edition : February 09, 2007

Interview with Iranian director Mohammad Aghebati.

A GRADUATE of the Iran Film and Theatre University, 31-year-old Mohammad Aghebati's choice of scripts, themes and authors shows an eclectic taste. He won Best Play prizes for his Purgatory (based on Irish playwright William Butler Yeats' play by the same name), The Maids (by French playwright Jean Genet) and Letters to Olga (by Czech dramatist Vaclav Havel who later became President).

His own Live Sun Theatre Group, launched in 2006, has toured Germany with the play Only God Can Wake Me Up.

In this interview, Aghebati talks along with his dramaturge Reza Soroor, who is himself a playwright and translator. The interview was not easy. Mariam, the translator, was far from fluent. Some guesswork had to be employed to unscramble the phrases.

Why did you opt for a Greek myth and not something from your own literature, say, the Shahnama?

Aghebati: The theme was given to me. But I'm happy because Greek myths are not culture-specific in import. They relate to every country in the world, and everyone finds echoes of himself and his own experience in them.

Besides, I have not dramatised Sophocles, the script is by an Iranian writer, Mohammad Charmshir. The two characters in my play, Oedipus and Jocasta, are fleshed out according to his visualisation of their relationship. Of course, I brought in my own imagination.

After all, a play is not just words, certainly not this play which delves deep into the dim, dark, undiscovered regions of the psyche. I must add that the actors brought their sensibilities to enrich the characters.

Darkness does suggest blindness at many levels - of the characters, viewers, fate, the attempt to break out of destiny, tradition, find new ways out of blind ends in life. But any play is about light - not darkness. Why so many lights-off interludes?

Aghebati: The situation and the plight of the characters demand darkness. Secondly, all the lights had to be adjusted for all the 16 parts in the play. More importantly, darkness gives the audience time to think about the previous scene.

Lastly, lighting is not a device, it is a character in this play. The envisioning of the acting was inseparable from the envisioning of the lighting design. Lights are performers here, and so must darkness be.

Jocasta is awesomely modern as an archetype. Why distract from that eternal feel by making her smoke a cigarette or surf channels?

Soroor: Goddesses and myths are eternal but vary according to our perceptions in different times. For centuries "Oedipus Rex" was a `holy story'. In the beginning of the 20th century, Freud revolutionises the myth with the application of science.

Such interpretations are not confined to science but permeate every moment of our life. And sometimes unconsciously they shape the way of our lives. We know that every meaningful interpretation of myth creates a new myth.

Collaborations are demanding. So how much have you realised what you set out to do in this play?

Aghebati: Unfortunately the time given was so limited. We had to work very quickly to deliver the play on time. Please remember that what you saw yesterday is a just-born child. It needs to be nourished and shaped to grow. We should develop and improve it.

Soroor: One of the characteristics of all experimental work is that it should be developed each time, worked anew each day.

Do you ever wonder if a show of over three hours is too long?

Soroor: Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Greeks watched three tragedies in a single day, and from early morning to night.

Aghebati: But now our lives are mechanical. We are used to channel surfing, ads, and quick results.

What did you learn in working together with people of other cultures?

Aghebati: Too soon to say. But every such project has good effects.

Can you show this play in Teheran?

Soroor: Yes. With some changes we will be allowed to stage it. Not very strict now. Even touching is not a problem because Oedipus and Jocasta are husband and wife!

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