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Posted on on May 10th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (


Aeschylus wrote the original play eight years after having participated in the sea battle of 480 BC, in which 310 Greek Ships under Themistocles beat off the attacking 1200 Persian ships lead by King Xerxes, son of the late King Darius. Xerxes mother appears in the show, Darius’s ghost is acting up also. Aeschylus was on the winning side, so was large part of the audience that saw the play. The Play probes the losers ambitions, the idea of empire, and was probably intended to off-warn similar development in Aeschylus’ own Athens. He achieves his goals of forewarning Athens by presenting a remorseful Xerxes, and by showing his demotion in his openness post-factum, Aeschylus tells generations to come of how war is misery. Dr. Mahmood Karimi-Hakkak explains in the program that in his Siena version, he punctuates scenes with contemporary sounds and imagery, so that by relying on what we know, we can then understand the misery and horrors that Xerxes caused, and how he concludes about himself as “a sad hollow, born to bring home …/ sorrow, sorrow … my heart howling from its bony cage.” But then, on the other hand, to bring the drama even more home to us, when Xerxes finally vanishes under the weight of the shields of the dead, those shields’ backsides turn to us as mirrors – now think – you folks how things are right here in our times!

We see The Persian as a man whose life is devastated by his actions and the effect the fall of his people had to cause his fall, which then effected even further his surviving people. The Editor of this version, Michael Sham, reminds us that Herodotus, the historian, was keen at saying that the World, history itself, as embodied by the Gods, mitigate against imperial designs, an overreaching grasp, an arrogant spirit.

“Xerxes’ recognition that he has gone too far and has angered the gods does not necessarily imply a reclaimed nobility; there is too little time for that.” The cruel end of Xerxes’ monologue reminds us of Oedipus taking the brooches and plunging them into his eyes. That is the spirits lowest ebb. The entropy or time’s arrow, has no return or forgiveness. The Greek tragedy is unidirectional. The play was a warning to the Athenians and to us. We are reminded that we lost our ways in Vietnam, in Iraq, and in Darfur. So, what is our future relation to Iran? Whose posturing in this arena is now tending to reach to the brink?

Again, based on the production’s program – “The Siena production attempts to create a bridge that spans our leaders unquenchable thirst for power and history of their arrogance. It is staged in the tradition of Persian Ta’ziyeh, an annual ritual performed on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, to help us remember how swiftly we forget the past and thus allow history to repeat itself. The method uses a theater in the round – with actors occupying the central space. In this form the actors at times break the dramatic illusion and speak directly to the audience.”

The Persians invade Greece – We Watch the Persian court:

Will they come home ? – Time Stretches Thin.
The Whole Fleet Went Down:   No War – Peace Now.

Never Again Silence.
Home Again.

Something Not Human Has Cut Our Forces Down.   The TV camera rolls in.   It was the Greek ship that opened the fight and every Persian ship went down.
Our men died of thirst and hunger.
He closed the Bosphorus and had them cross the sea.
How can this not be sickness of the mind that moved your son? Asks the old King that was resurected to hear the chant as happened.

The gate to the underworld is closed.

Q. Where are they now?
A. The sorrow is mine!

Q. My son too. I am stunned. The few that followed your carriage are back.
A. I am the leader – I mispaced.

Q. You Sped of defeat – Ships went down!

They are Gone, Gone, Gone.
They are Dead
They are Gone.

And the women hang on his neck the photos of their dead sons.
The music in the background is from Africa.
The photos weigh him down and they put on him their masks on his shield.

Before entering the enclosed round space of the show, we had the chance to look over stacks of statistics of the unhumanity of man-to-man.

I will just bring one of the 70-80 pages Mahmood allowed me to take with me:


After the show, while waiting for the Director, I spoke with a gentleman connected to the College, whose son was in the cast. The father was in Albany all his life and went to school also at Siena College.
He was here in the sixties. His generation at Siena protested the Vietnam war – Now his son protests the Iraq war. The father is now an environmentalist and gave me the reference to someone else who is                                                                                         now an environmentalist active at the UN. He told me that the war is about oil and this is the wrong war. Is this going to war similar to the Persian King who went for an unexplained war against the Greeks?

This production was entered in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) and we hope that it will be given the chance to be seen outside its College home.

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