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IRAN: Tehran staging of 'Galileo' reflects a nation's struggle against 'ignorance,' 'ancientness' [Corrected]

January 31, 2010 |  1:43 pm


Will the truth triumph over superstition and dogma?

That was the question hovering in a Tehran theater Sunday afternoon as 14 men and women in black clothes circled around the astronomer Galileo Galilei in director Dariush Farhang's sometimes nightmarish, politically loaded rendition of the 1943 play "The Life of Galileo" by German playwright Bertolt Brecht.

[Corrected, Feb. 2, 2010, 3:13 a.m. PST: Galileo was an astronomer, not an astrologer, as previously written.]

The Italian astrologer was forced to renounce his scientific conclusion that the Earth circled the sun because his work conflicted with church doctrine.

Among those surrounding the scientist on the darkened stage during the nightmare sequence are members of an inquisition committee that is a premonition of a catastrophe for the scientist and mathematician who tried to get people to look at the heavens with their own eyes, and not through the prism of faith. 

A guillotine stands in the right corner of the stage at the City Theater. 

Twice it is used, once during the nightmare sequence and at the end of the play when Galileo is forced to renounce his scientific findings in a show trial.

Iran-galileo2The parallels between Galileo's fate at the hands of Catholic priests and Iran's post-election political crisis are uncanny. 

Farhang, a longtime actor and director, said in an interview that he reinterpreted the play to draw "a contrast between logic and ignorance, modernity and ancientness" for the annual Fajr festival, a cultural event preceding the Feb. 11 anniversary of the Islamic Revolution

Despite an international and domestic boycott of the film portion of Fajr because of the post-election crisis, no one even considered letting the "Galileo" troupe's months-long rehearsals go to waste. 

The theater was packed for the performance. “The very choosing of the 'Life of Galilieo' at this juncture of history in Iran is a very clever idea," said Shahriar, a dramatologist who asked that his last name not be published.

Farhang and co-writer Saeed Shahsavari insert references to Iranian history into the play, noting, for example, that Galileo was preceded not only by the 16th century Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in arguing for a heliocentric universe, but also by the 11th century Persian astronomer Abu Rayhan Biruni

The writers added verses from the late Iranian dissident Ahmad Shamlu’s poetry. When actor Amin Taroukh, who plays Galileo, referring to one of Shamlu's works, defiantly tells the pope, "this snow is not going to stop," he drew the raucous applause of the audience, who smirked, sighed or even wept at dialogues that were adapted to subtly refer to post-election events and arguments. 

"I am not afraid of death in a society where the wage of a gravedigger is more than a human being’s dignity and honor," one of Galileo's friends says, in a line taken from Shamlu.

The score included sorrowful church requiems and the winter portion of  Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."

Toward the end of the play, Andrea, Galileo's adopted child, declared, "We are a miserable nation because we have no heroes." 

Galileo answered, "We are a miserable nation because we need heroes."

The audience roared with applause. 

The play, opening on the last night of the theater portion of the Fajr festival, is scheduled to be performed until March.

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photos: Top, the nightmare sequence in an Iranian rendition of Bertolt Brecht's "The Life of Galileo" Credit: Los Angeles Times. Below, director and co-writer Dariush Farhang, center, coaches actors during rehearsals. Credit: Iranian Students News Agency.