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In late 1963 Farrokhzad played a role in a Persian stage version of Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in search of an author (1922), performed in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Cultural Affairs. In this play, which had heralded the advent of modernism in Western theatre in the 1920s and which examines the relative reality and significant of art vis-å-vis life, Forugh played the role of "The Step-Daughter," a bold, haughty, 18 year old who has been a prostitute for a time. Even though it was her first theatrical experience, Forugh played the role the brilliance, as if, according to Pari Saberi, who directed this Persian production, she had always known Pirandello and the theatre. In large measure because of Forugh's participation, the show was an unprecedented hit. However, the staging was not without conflict concerning Forugh. Other member of the company resented her choice as "The Step-Daughter," some of them convinced that she got the part only because she was a well-known poet. There was even some talk behind her back to the effect that polite Tehran theatre was no place for this "brazen whore."

A Lonely Woman
Michael Hillmann page 47

The most intriguing of Farrokhzad's plans for 1967 was her preparation to play the title in a Tehran stage version of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, on the Persian translation of which, according to Golestan, Forugh was working. As a commentary on monarchy and religious institutions, a Persian saint Joan would have proved most provocative in the Tehran of 1967. Furthermore, issues of sexism, double standard, and the like which the play raises would have been challenging to establishment and non-establishment intellectuals alike. More important from a biographical perspective is the special appeal which Shaw's play must have had personally for Farrokhzad as translator and especially as an actress playing the title role.
Of course, one can only speculate as to whether or not Farrokhzad saw her situation as similar to that as Shaw's character, that is to say, whether or not she saw herself as an Iranian Joan of Arc. Regardless, the parallels are striking. If one of Joan's chief transgressions is that "She rebels against nature by wearing man's clothes, and fighting," Farrokhzad had presumed in her almost as brief adult life to put on the exclusively male garb of freedom of social behavior, and to enter the exclusively male lists of literary art. If in response to Joan's surprise that her achievements displeased French leaders, a fellow officer says: "Do you expect stupid people to love you for showing them up?" many male and female readers and acquaintances of Farrokhzad who respond so negatively to her life and poetry may have subconsciously felt embarrassed or humiliated by her superior artistic talent, superior courage in trying to live her own life, and her straightforward common sense- the essential quality that Shaw imputes to Joan even in the explanation of her visions- in making demands for change in Iranian society in terms of how women are to be perceived and treated. In Shaw's view, Joan in effect commits suicide when she choose burning at the stake by renouncing her recantation upon discovering that life imprisonment is the only alternative. This life imprisonment and burning at the stake were the sentences for the following crime: a simple, middle class girl without the same formal education of her male compeers had presumed to lead her society to appreciate its nationhood, while giving voice to "the protest of the individual soul against the interference of priest and peer." Farrokhzad's life as well seems in large measure a similar protest in a similar context of Iranian religious and social interference in her attempt to be an individual.
Now Joan of Arc was the most famous female figure available to the imagination of a girl growing up in Farrokhzad's generation, except for Shi'I religious women figures. Joan's life story and that of Madame Curie were literally the only school text models of women to inspire some one such as Forugh. But the school book version of Joan's life, not to speak of the popular view of her in Iran and elsewhere, differs markedly from the decidedly modern interpretation of history and legend which Shaw's play embodies, the feminist and secular dimensions of which must struck Farrokhzad and caused her to realize that she was facing similar conflicts and barriers in her own life. Unfortunately, she did not live to play the role on stage. Her life was snuffed out before achievement of her grander goals, as Joan's was before the taking of Paris and the total liberation of France from the English.

A Lonely Woman
Michael Hillmann Page 70


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