by Wendy Coyle · August 12, 2014
The stage features a stark white screen, a stool and a spotlight. The play begins with a projection of archival and old newsreel footage showing events in the French Algerian War for Independence that took place from 1954 to 1962. We are shown battles, celebrations, parades, an old propaganda film in Arabic, funerals in Paris. We learn that over 300,000 combatants died. After that, the screen becomes a wall in an interrogation cell.
Naeem, a 19-year-old village boy, either a half-wit or deranged by torture, is asked to confess how and why he killed a young French woman. His questioner, who is never seen, demands and clarifies the boy’s answers. Afshin Hashemi, excellent as Naeem, convinces us with his facial tics, body language and voice that he has been tortured and also that he doesn’t fully understand his crime or the charges. As his story unfolds, he is amusing, frightening, screams “Kill the French” and ultimately evokes our compassion.
In the second half of the show, separated by more film footage of the war’s end, another victim, played by Atefeh Nouri, is a woman bomb-maker proud of her work and skill blowing up the French enemy. In her delusions or unbearable reality, she repeatedly hears her mother’s voice and screams at her to stop calling her. As her interrogation unfolds we understand that the mother wants her daughter to marry, have grandchildren and sews her a white wedding dress. But we also learn it is evident the raped and brutalized near-crazy woman can never have any of those things. In one instance she tells of being forced to eat quantities of dry powdered laundry soap and then forced to drink water so that bubbles and soap seep from all her orifices including her eyes when she cries.
Mohammad Rahmanian, the Iranian author, writes a powerful script that is well translated into English from Persian. There is both clever and poetic language on occasion and the victims’ parts are strong. The interrogators lines, read off stage by the same two actors in turn, sound stiff and stilted. They soon form a predictable QA QA QA pattern, often redundant or unneeded; for example, repeating the victim’s answer, rephrasing , parroting to clarify a response. This breaks the dramatic effect of the victims’ narrations and slows the momentum.
Watching Interview put me in mind of what I call disguised theater, popular today in countries with harsh censorship controls and penalties. Officials may refuse to license and thus prevent performances of plays that criticize the ruling regimes, their policies or social problems. Thus, the playwright is forced to hide the dangerous content in another geographical or time location and “fool” the censors into approving the work or allow them to feign cluelessness so the work can be approved.
The Algerian revolution and its use of torture certainly serves as an effective background screen for exploring torture, be it 60 years ago or now, in diverse locations ranging from Iraq, Iran, Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Russia to name a few. INTERVIEW makes us contemplate that the torture of its two victims not only happened then but is still happening in many places now.