Edgy new play spotlights death row teens in Iran
Iranian theater director Amin Miri, third from left in second row, poses with his theater group prior to their performance of "The Blue Feeling of Death,’’ outside the theater hall in Arasbaran Cultural Center in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, July 18, 2013. The production opened last month as a showcase of activist art against Iran's legal codes that allow death sentences for children _ who then wait until their 18th birthday for possible execution. Opening night came even as Iranian officials tightened controls on the social media and other forms of political opposition before presidential elections, whose centrist winner, Hasan Rouhani, has brought hope of reversing some of the crackdowns. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The curtain opens. Six nooses hang above a group of teenage inmates, who are making chairs in a prison workshop to be used as platforms in their own hangings. The audience gasps.
This is theater that's raw, edgy and political — and it's all been cleared by the Iranian authorities, even though they have tightened controls on speech.
The production, translated from Farsi as "The Blue Feeling of Death," opened last month as a showcase of activist art against Iran's legal codes that allow death sentences for juvenile offenders — who then wait until their 18th birthday for execution.
Opening night came even as Iranian officials tightened controls on social media and other forms of political opposition ahead of last month's presidential elections, whose centrist winner, Hasan Rouhani, has brought hope of reversing some of the crackdowns.
The play tells the true stories of seven juvenile death row inmates and the families on all sides of their crimes. It also seeks to raise funds for defense lawyers and social workers trying to overturn death sentences on young people through Iran's system that allows families of victims to spare the life of the prisoner.
"Through the stage, we can affect many people — even the families of victims," said the play's director, Amin Miri, following a recent performance. "We are trying to give greater courage."
The play also shows the unpredictable enforcement of Iran's cultural overseers.
Dozens of journalists, filmmakers and others have been arrested or fled the country in recent years over allegations of opposing Iran's Islamic establishment or stirring political dissent. These red lines still exist, but officials can give their nod to works exploring social issues or other topics that don't directly target the ruling clerics.
In 2008, a documentary filmmaker had permission to research Iran's rising number of sex-change operations, which have been legal under a religious edict, or fatwa, issued shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The 2012 Oscar-winning film, "A Separation," by Asghar Farhadi, was hailed by Iranian authorities even though its plot is a harsh commentary on Iranian society through the viewpoint of a collapsing marriage. In 2003, Farhadi directed "Shahr-e Ziba," named after the neighborhood where the Tehran Correction Center is located, to portray the destinies of young convicts as well as the families of victims.
Still, last year Iranian officials ordered the closure of the House of Cinema, an independent film group that had operated for 20 years and counted Iran's top filmmakers, including Farhadi, among its members. The site has remained closed because of hard-line pressure despite a ruling to allow its reopening.