'Seven Stages' strives to enlighten

July 24, 1991|By R. M. Grau

Because of an editing error, an article in yesterday's Today section incorrectly identified Mahmood Karimi-Hakak's native land. He is from Iran. A photograph accompanying the article misidentified the two dancers with Mr. Karimi-Hakak; they were Lydia D'Wynter and Jamie Jones.

In her poem "Another Birth," the 20th century Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad writes: "My whole being is a dark chant that, perpetuating you, will carry you to the dawn of eternal growths and blossomings." This might well serve as a motto for director Mahmood Karimi-Hakak's philosophy of acting, what he calls "ascetic theater."

"Ascetic" is not a word many of us can feel any real fondness for. Conjuring visions of bony hermits in hair shirts, it seems an unlikely description for the sensuous music and rich, flowing movements in Mr. Karimi-Hakak's "Seven Stages," which is being presented at Theatre Project before going to the prestigious Edinburgh Theater Fringe Festival in Scotland.


Nor does it seem particularly to fit the director himself, whose handsome face can, in a split second, flash from impassioned concentration to infectious merriment.

Last week, in an interview just before a warm-up with his company, the Forugh Ensemble (named for the poet), Mr. Karimi-Hakak explained what he meant by the term: "Ascetic theater is no longer just an act; it's a process of enlightenment. As a result, our rehearsal, our preparation for this process of enlightenment, becomes a ritual."

Originally from Iraq, Mr. Karimi-Hakak has worked with some of ++ the most important figures in experimental theater, including Joseph Chaikin, Jerzy Grotowski and Richard Schechner.For the past two years, he has taught acting and directing in the theater department of Towson State University.

The director's roots are apparent in "Seven Stages," an original piece that combines poetry by the 13th century Persian mystic, Rumi, the work of Farrokhzad and writing by the actors (all students or recent graduates of Towson's theater program). "They are my collaborators," Mr. Karimi-Hakak says of his ensemble. "This piece belongs to what they are."

"Seven Stages" aims, he says, "to hit both the emotions and intellect" of audience members as they watch the often painful process of self-understanding unfold on stage. Stylistically, the play traces an arc from the lush, abstract lyricism of the mystical verse to the brittle realism of contemporary urban monologues.

After its run at Theatre Project, "Seven Stages" will be performed in Edinburgh. When the company returns, bookings are planned for Washington and, perhaps, California. "I feel I don't want to stop working on it," the director says.

But he admits the play is emotionally demanding for his actors. He says, with obvious admiration, "These people are taking risks every single day."

Because of a certain "rawness" essential to "Seven Stages," Mr. Karimi-Hakak is particularly excited to be working with actors at the beginning of their careers. "The process of discovery takes a lot longer for professional actors than it does for a younger student who is willing to open up to all kinds of vulnerabilities," he observes.

And for Mr. Karimi-Hakak, the ascetic art of acting is nothing if not the art of being vulnerable.

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