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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian authorities have ordered a theater to suspend its production of the classic European play Hedda Gabler, which a semi-official news agency described as "vulgar" and "hedonistic."
The Fars news agency on Wednesday published photographs of the play in which a man and a woman appear to be on the verge of a kiss -- an outrageous scene in the Islamic Republic, where physical contact between unrelated men and women is banned.
"Considering the furor created by some media representatives and cultural officials, and in order to prevent disturbing public opinion and due to concerns of the authorities, the performance of Hedda Gabler has been stopped for now," the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance said in a statement carried on the ISNA news wire.
The ban, imposed before a performance on Tuesday night at the City Theater, would be reviewed by the ministry, it said. The play has been running at the theater since January 5.
Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's 1890 drama, translated into Farsi, follows the fraught relations between the newly married Hedda, her husband and another man, leading to a tragic finale. It is widely considered a classic and the lead role is coveted by actresses worldwide as one of the most demanding in theater.
"Hedda Gabler, which is adapted from a western play and is based on nihilistic and hedonistic ideas and was performed in a very vulgar and inappropriate way for the public, was stopped," Fars said.
The ban is the latest example of the clash between strict Islamic moral norms and a desire by many highly educated Iranians to experience arts from around the world.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff has been condemned by many fellow conservatives for speaking out in favor of the arts. Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie last month criticized "some senior Shi'ite clerics" for claiming that music is banned by Islam.
"Some engage so much in worshipping that they actually become oblivious of God," Mashaie told a gathering of artists in Tehran. "If we raise an objection to what they say they would brand us as blasphemous. The fact is that society's preferences have changed."
A parliamentary committee is looking into Mashaie's comments on a variety of controversial issues, Arman newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Javad Arianmanesh, deputy head of parliament's cultural committee, told Fars he was sorry parts of Ahmadinejad's hardline government were not taking a firmer stance on the arts.
"Sadly, breaking social rules during the term of a principalist (conservative) government is continuing while the warnings of supporters of the revolution hardly bear any fruit," he said.
Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton