The more repressive the regime, the more guardedly artists shroud their allegories. The fact that Siavash Pakrah wrote Ka in the wake of Iran’s “Green” democracy protests is surely significant, especially considering the playwright has been imprisoned by the Islamist regime. Yet, the density of the work and its ancient Egyptian setting helped slip it by the repressive state censors. Indeed, responses to Pakrah’s Ka may depend on what the audience brings with them during its premiere American run as part of the Iranian Theater Festival, currently underway at the Brick Theater.
Three servants have been walled up in what is apparently their master’s tomb. According the hourglass, they only have sixty minutes of air remaining. Should they work together, they might conceivably navigate their way out. Unfortunately, their manifest flaws which kept them in bondage will most likely prevent any effective cooperation. One obsequiously servile slave clings to the hope their master will return to save them. Another slave lashes out in indiscriminate fury. Consider him a perpetual one-man day of rage. The woman amongst them is easily the most sympathetic. Horribly abused by their master, both physically and sexually, she has had to survive on the most pragmatic of terms.
As with many dissident Iranian filmmakers, adds a distinct class element to his implied critique of theocratic Iran. Yet, it is hard to miss the enslaving role playing by religious doctrine, nor its intimate association with death. Likewise, the malevolent threat of misogynist violence is another constant undercurrent. Yet, the hour-long Ka is so tightly packed, it is a challenge to find a loose strand to unravel it with.
Of the three trapped slaves, the woman is easily the most fully realized character. This seems to be a function of both the text and Melissa Roth’s forceful performance. Tragically, she might be the most deserving of deliverance, but the least likely to receive it. Again, it is not hard to draw parallels to contemporary Iran, if one is so inclined.
Ka is a strange and unsettling work, well suited to the dark, intimate space of the Brick. Yet, on a human level, its bleakness and emotional distance is ultimately unsatisfying. Again though, what can we expect? It is most definitely a product of its time and place. Certainly a bold selection, Ka runs again March 19th, 24th, and 26th as the Iranian Theater Festival continues at the Brick Theater in the County of Kings.