Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has refused to reissue a permit for the play “A Barren Day” which was set to open on January 22 at the 36th Fajr International Theater Festival in Tehran.
Written and directed by Hossein Kiani, “A Barren Day” tells the story of three female prostitutes whose lives are turned upside down when a group of men set fire to their neighborhood of Qaleh Zahedi, in Tehran’s red-light district, on January 9, 1979. The episode takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic Revolution. The women eventually manage to flee their assailants, and take refuge in the basement of a large house in central Tehran. On the floor above them, three men operate a butcher shop.
The play originally opened in July 2017 at the Baran Theater in Tehran.
In a statement, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s public relations office said: “The failure to make the necessary changes to the script resulted in the play being banned.”
“After further review, the Supervisory Board of the Performing Arts decided against reissuing a permit,” the statement added.
The refusal to reissue the permit followed the publication of an article in the semi-official Fars News Agency in which the writer described “A Barren Day” as “problematic.”
“Why is it acceptable to depict the lives, drug use and drunken behavior of prostitutes who lived in the Pahlavi era?” Fars asked. “Why does Mr. Farhad Mohandespour, the festival director, praise Hossein Kiani, and agree to stage the unamended version of his play?”
This is the first time that a play has been banned a day before its opening at the Fajr Festival. The festival organizers have promised to refund the audience within 24 hours. Kiani said that the director of the Center for the Performing Arts had told him that “A Barren Day” was a bitter and painful story which made it unsuitable for the Fajr Festival.
Writing about his own play, Kiani said: “’A Barren Day’ belongs to that category of plays which are slowly becoming extinct. These are stories that deal with deep wounds and visceral pains that Iranian society has been enduring for so long. Unfortunately, mediocre scripts, superficial narratives and box-office concerns are spelling the death of true theater.”
Kiani added: “This process of decay can be halted or slowed down as long as there are serious writers and discerning audiences. Ultimately, it is the audience that determines the fate of Iranian theater. They have to choose between the painful truth or a false narrative.”