BWW Review: Iranian Playwright Nassim Soleimanpour's NASSIM Encourages Cultural Understanding Through Language
In a city where hundreds of theatre productions are produced every year before audiences who encourage artists to experiment beyond the norm, it takes a lot for a play in New York to be regarded as unconventional.
But two years ago, Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour's WHITE RABBIT RED RABBIT earned that badge during its nearly nine-month Off-Broadway run for being a solo play performed by a different actor at every performance; one who has had no rehearsal nor preparation and did not see the script until performing it before the audience.
The same technique is used for his new play, Nassim, presented by Barrow Street Theatricals under the direction of Omar Elerian. Since discovery is the nature of the piece, this review will reveal little of the 80-minute, intermissionless play's content, but given the title it's a safe bet that the author himself is, to some extent, the subject at hand.
The guest actor can be of any gender and the audience is not informed of who'll be performing until they see a sign posted at the auditorium's entrance. When this reviewer attended, Corbin Bernsen took on the challenge. Though, when asked by the evening's host, he confidently stated he wasn't nervous about the task ahead of him, one could sense during the piece's first quarter or so the actor's need to entertain the audience as he ad-libbed the occasional snarky remark rather than directly following instructions.
But as the play proceeded, something quite lovely happened. You could sense the actor developing a greater trust in the author's work and forming a bond with the playwright through his story. And while every performance will obviously be different, Nassim appears to be just as much about each actor's reaction to the material and situation as it is about the play's written content.
Though Nassim doesn't tell a linear tale, aspects of the author's life and career are referenced. Soleimanpour's plays have been performed internationally in many languages, but because of his refusal to serve in Iran's military, government censorship has prevented them from being produced in his home country. He longs to someday see his work played before an audience in his native tongue, Farsi.
Having been confined to Iran from 2010-2012 because of his refusal to serve in the military, Soleimanpour was unable to see the first productions of WHITE RABBIT RED RABBIT, but now resides in Germany and is allowed to travel freely, though recent American visa restrictions made it questionable if he would be allowed in the U.S. for Nassim's current run.
So his new play deals with the human connection to a language as an important part of our identity and how the repeated hearing of his words in different languages has helped him feel more comfortable with each new nation he visits. Played with the assumption that very few in the audience will know Farsi, Nassim introduces us to some basic tenants of the language, and as actor and audience learn more about the culture the playwright grew up with, our connection with him as a person increases.
It's a charming piece, full of humor, decent sentiment and yes, several surprises and unconventional moments. But most importantly, it's about erasing the borders created by governments by erasing the borders created by a lack of understanding of our fellow humans.