Overlooked Modern Perspectives of ‘Feathers of Fire’ at the Wallis

Feathers of Fire shadow puppetry

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Despite the conservative storytelling implications on the ideas of love, courtship, and sacrifice, followed by good deeds and a happy ending, of which there are innumerable comparative examples, (think forbidden love in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet; parental ownership in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; or the appeasement of greater powers in Euripedes’ Iphegenia; or as in the movie version of Perseus and Andromeda’s tale, Clash of the Titans – a hero’s test and love conquers all), Feathers of Fire creator, producer, director, Hamid Rahmanian gives us the key story of an ancient, poetic, Iranian (Persian) epic, Shahnameh, modernized for easy digestion,  that, in its finer parts, could just as easily be interpreted for our time.

Feathers of Fire narrates the tale of the outcast boy Zaul, who is abandoned by his father then rescued and brought up by a mythical bird, Simorgh.  Zaul eventually is reclaimed by his father and goes on to become an admiral young man, who enters into a forbidden love with the princess Rudabeh, giving birth to Rostam — the Hercules of Iran…but not before things almost go completely awry.

Told in the form of Shadow play by 3-dimensional 1/2 puppet, 1/2 human figures, a genre of theater popular in the 10th to the 13th century, it is masterfully done.  We are given the figures of real people. But the visual experience leaves us to use our own imaginations, rather than be set in stone as to what the players look like or their expressions as we encounter them. In other words, possibility.

feathers of fireFeathers of Fire has its own gods and monsters, good guys and not so good guys.  But despite the overarching theme of a tentative boy becoming a sagacious man,  it features something  unexpected.

Although they are not the focus, there’s no mistaking who the underplayed heroes of the story are. Revolving inside the narrative and power structures within which they are boxed, it is the female characters who more often save the day or motivate cause to do so.

Three very strong women, push the boundaries, from Simorgh assimilating a child into her family that is not even of her own species; Princess Rudabeh defying cultural norms by insisting on meeting with a foreigner ridiculed for his looks and suspect for his racial identity, embracing his love and marriage proposal without permission from her parents, daring to form an independent alliance for love and faith in a good man; or Sindokh, mother of Rudabeh, courageously riding out without her husband to meet and negotiate survival of an entire people, with the most renowned and ruthless battle general whose approaching army has been sent to decimate her city; and finally the foreign mother (Simorgh) who returns on call to save the lives of Zaul’s wife and infant son in childbirth, for love.

Sure, wise old Zaul, wise for his young age is able to make tough decisions and stand by them, charm a great King into reason about his alliance, bend a father back to empathy and love and save his family.

But given a full-view perspective, it’s the women who set the course, who defy tradition at the very risk of their lives, communicate the important ideals, and greatly put into play the practical solutions and offer the emotionally emphatic declarations that tie up the story for a happy ending for all.

Isn’t it almost always? (wink)


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