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A collision of Nanos Operetta and AKHE Group

St. Petersburg, Russia July 2012
San Francisco May 2013

Based on Iranian existentialist author Sadegh Hedayat's writings, The Blind Owl will draw from the literature's potent symbolism and fevered surrealistic imagery, exploring his penetrating vision of the human condition. First published in 1937 in mimeograph form, this masterpiece is a haunting tale of loss and spiritual degradation, detailing a young man's despair after losing a mysterious lover, gradually drifting into frenzy, drug addiction and lunacy. Deeply veiled in exquisite symbolism, for fear of political persecution, Hedayat wrapped his subversive message of liberation from the cycles of suffering in a patchwork of hallucinations and transposed passages. A painter of pen cases, the narrator develops an obsession repainting the same image of an old man beneath a Cyprus tree and a woman offering him a morning glory. The image manifests into physical reality, sending him shifting between time periods in an altered state brought on by loss of love, opium abuse, and isolation. A philosophical utterance on man's necessity for freedom, the resonance and transgressive nature of this work is still felt in modern day Iran (in 2006 the entirety of Hedayat's work was banned by the Iranian government).

Nanos initially encountered AKHE while both ensembles performed at SFIAF in 2005. So taken by their work was Tabatabai that in December of that year when was asked by the Bay Guardian to name his top arts experiences of 2005, one event stood above all others. Writing in the news weekly he described the experience as follows:

To describe the AKHE Group is to thread that impossible needle, to demand the voice of God, to explain smoke. To suggest it is a theater of lunacy seems trite and riddled with pretense, a facade to be toppled over the bones of antiquity. AKHE is the lack of philosophy, the absence of beauty, a hero catapulted over the tyranny of convention, a hallucination, a mute horse, the world of silence, a goat grazing on the hem of the Madonna. Two men and one woman, tearing themselves to pieces in a dream of laughter and tears, calling on us all to dislodge ourselves from the binds of human drama, politics, social causes, and the mundane plight of civil pettiness, and kneel and warm our hands one final time, again and again, over the ashes of the human spirit.

Tabatabai suggested Hedayat's writing as the basis for the piece because of uncanny similarity between what he had seen AKHE construct on-stage, and the emotions and states of consciousness Hedayat created in his books, particularly the repetitive, surreal and opium-induced dream sequences of The Blind Owl.