At the National Theater in downtown Tehran, "Waiting for Godot" seems to have captured the mood of a country.
The Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett dramatized endless waiting in vain for someone named Godot. The play, translated into Farsi, got a standing ovation on the night I attended. The characters, in classic white suits, black top hats and black shoes, took endless bows as the audience whistled and clapped.
Iran is also waiting. It is waiting for the outcome of negotiations with six world powers over the country's nuclear program. Iranians are waiting for an end to punishing international sanctions that sent prices skyrocketing. The country is waiting to open for business again after the punitive measures that have isolated Iranian banks, frozen oil assets and shut down most official international trade.
Some in the audience worried that Iran — like Beckett's characters — will wait in vain.
"'Waiting for Godot' is our hope for future, and we never reach it," says Sheyda Mejani, 22, a finance major who was standing outside the theater with her friends after the final curtain.
But Nadar Safari, another college student from the group, was more upbeat. She said parallels to "Waiting for Godot" are not quite right because she's convinced Iran will reach a long-term nuclear deal.
Businessmen Are More Upbeat
Her opinion was also shared at the grand bazaar, the capital's chaotic market of small shops and crowded walk ways. For many merchants, hope has made a comeback.
Amir Farhat sells carpets mainly to international clients. He served tea at his showroom as he explained that his business dwindled to a halt because sanctions blocked international banking transactions.
"We can say that sanctions made a disaster for the economy," he said, as he pulled out carpet after carpet to tempt a visitor.
Since January, the economy has revived due to a six-month interim nuclear deal. Iran's currency has stabilized, along with prices for basic goods. In recent weeks, at least three Iranian supertankers have set sail after a year at home ports.
But Farhat's business has yet to revive. The block on Iran's banks is still in place. For him, the economy is the same, but he says, "all of the people find a little hope."
For Iran, the "psychological boost was tremendous," said businessman Rouzbeh Pirouz after the interim deal was concluded in Geneva last year. He runs an investment firm in Tehran and he points out that Iran's stock market is booming again, in a sign of confidence. But he cautions that "sanctions relief has been limited."
"One of the things I always say about Iran is that it is a country with such vast potential, but we have to hope that it doesn't always remain a country with vast potential," he said with a wry laugh. Iranians want to get to work rebuilding the economy after the devastating damage of the sanctions, but there are still barriers.
Visiting Trade Delegations
It is still nearly impossible to transfer money, so international trade is constrained despite European trade delegations that have swarmed into the capital recently.
"It's exploratory at this stage," he said of the business delegations that arrive each week.
"Nobody wants to lose the edge" if Iran opened for business again, but that requires a long-term nuclear deal, he added.
But Iran's leadership, particularly Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani is committed to reviving the economy and that is tied to nuclear negotiations.
"Two-thirds of our population is under the age of 40. They need jobs, they need opportunity. They need income to be able to build their lives," said Pirouz. "The government recognized that unless it does that we are faced with a major problem."
Rouhani came to office with a decisive vote last year. He is said to be a pragmatic cleric with a long resume in Iran's Islamic revolution. That gives him credibility with conservatives as he reaches out to reformists.
His election opened the way for the most serious nuclear talks in years, said Saeed Laylez, an economist and a reformer. He believes Rouhani is the only Iranian politician who can end Iran's waiting
"Mr. Rouhani is Mr. Godot and he is coming. He came, actually," said Lalez.
Rouhani's hard-line critics have done their best to sow suspicion over talks with the U.S., but Rouhani's election reflected support for engagement with the west.
"He is the right man for the right time as far as Iranian politics goes," said Kevan Harris, an Iran scholar from Princeton University who was recently in Tehran.
Harris says Rouhani is building on his election mandate. He is a political operator, says Harris and diplomats in the capital, rather than an ideologue.
"He seems to be a lot better at keeping and maintaining a large political coalition, which to do anything in Iran, you need a coalition to do it, you can't just make a decision and it happens."
Rouhani will have to keep his coalition on board for the next round of nuclear talks when even tougher compromises are expected. Meanwhile, Iran, like the characters in Godot, are waiting.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And in Tehran, a classic play is getting a warm reception. It resonates with Iranians facing economic sanctions that are aimed at keeping the country from making nuclear weapons. It's being staged at a time when there's hope of ending a generations-long stalemate with the West that leaves them waiting.
NPR's Deborah Amos has more.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: In downtown Tehran, at the National Theater, a hit play seems to capture the mood of the country.
Five actors in white - with black top hats and black shoes. This is "Waiting for Godot" in Tehran.
AMOS: This iconic play by Samuel Beckett dramatizes endless waiting - in vain - for someone named Godot. This version, in Farsi, is packed each night. Three young college friends say they loved it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah, it's so good.
AMOS: And you?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yes, of course.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes. Absolutely.
AMOS: It's really about the whole country. Everybody's waiting.
SHEYDA MEJANI: Yeah, kind of, we can think about it that way. "Waiting for Godot" - it's just our hopes for future and we never reach it.
AMOS: The pessimist is Sheyda Mejani, a finance major, but her friend, Nadar Safari, says the parallels to "Waiting for Godot" are not quite right.
NADAR SAFARI: It's not a good comparison, I think.
AMOS: 'Cause you want something to happen.
SAFARI: Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
AMOS: Hope has made a comeback in Iran. You can also hear it at the grand bizarre, an ancient market of small shops and crowded alleys. Amir Farhat sells carpets to international clients. His business dried up because sanctions blocked most international banking transactions.
AMIR FARHAT: We can say the sanction is very - Iranian economy is very disaster.
AMOS: Since January, when the six-month nuclear deal took effect, the economy has revived somewhat. The national currency has stabilized along with prices. In recent weeks at least three Iranian supertankers have set sail after a year at home ports. The carpet salesman, he's encouraged, convinced all international sanctions will be lifted in the coming years.
FARHAT: Just make a hope, the economy is the same, but all of the people find a little hope.
AMOS: Iran got a psychological boost from the nuclear agreement, explains Rouzbeh Pirouz. He runs an investment firm in the Iranian capital, but economically, he says, Iran is still in limbo.
ROUZBEH PIROUZ: You know, it's a country with such vast potential, but we have to hope that it doesn't always remain a country with vast potential, that at some stage the potential is realized. You know, a lot of Iranians are just waiting for that moment when they can just really get on with things.
AMOS: Barriers remain. For example, it's still nearly impossible to transfer money, so international trade is constrained despite a swarm of European trading delegations recently in the capital. A long-term end to the sanctions is crucial, says Pirouz.
PIROUZ: Two-thirds of our population is under the age of 40. We have a lot of young people in this country. They need jobs, they need opportunity, they need the income to be able to build their lives. The government recognizes that unless it does that, you know, we're faced with a major problem.
AMOS: The newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, has promised an economic revival. He's said to be a pragmatic cleric with deep roots in Iran's Islamic revolution. That gives him credibility even among conservatives as he reaches out to reformers.
The vote last year opened the way for the most serious nuclear talks in years. Saeed Laylez, an economist and a reformer, says Rouhani is the only politician who could end the wait and write that final act of the hit play.
SAEED LAYLEZ: Mr. Rouhani, for me, is Mr. Godot and he is coming. He came, actually.
AMOS: Kevan Harris agrees. He's an Iran scholar from Princeton recently in Tehran.
KEVAN HARRIS: He is the right man for the right time as far as Iranian politics goes.
AMOS: Rouhani's hard-line critics have done their best to sow suspicion over talks with the U.S., but his election reflected support for engagement with the West.
HARRIS: He seems to be a lot better at keeping and maintaining a large political coalition, which to do anything in Iran, you need a coalition to do it. You can't just make a decision and it happens.
AMOS: President Rouhani will have to keep his coalition on board for the next round of nuclear talks, when even tougher compromises are expected. Meanwhile, Iran, like the characters in Godot, are waiting. Deborah Amos, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.