Review: NASSIM at Portland Center Stage

This must-see production runs through May 12.

By: Apr. 09, 2024
Review: NASSIM at Portland Center Stage
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“The best walk-a-mile-in-someone-else’s-shoes experience I’ve ever had.” That’s how my theatre companion described Nassim Soleimanpour’s NASSIM, now running at Portland Center Stage as a co-production with Boom Arts. And she's right.

Note the word experience rather than play. NASSIM is so far away from any traditional form of theatre that the word play hardly fits. Yet, using such an unfamiliar format, Soleimanpour manages to create the ultimate communal experience, unlike any I've ever had in the theatre.

Soleimanpour is an Iranian playwright whose work has been performed all over the world and in many languages. But never in his home country and his native language, Farsi. He wrote NASSIM for his mom. Soleimanpour is in it, but his role is essentially silent. The bulk of the work is done by a new actor every night who takes the stage and is introduced to the script with no prior rehearsal. Soleimanpour initially appears in projection, flipping the pages of the script so that the audience can read it along with the actor.

The story is of Soleimanpour’s childhood – we meet his family, learn about the books he read as a kid, and even learn some Farsi. These simple, universal experiences are the foundation NASSIM uses to explore the meaning of home, the role language plays in our sense of self, and the grief of being separated from loved ones.

The story is about community, and the format creates one. As an audience, we didn’t just watch the show, we got in the actor’s corner, we tried to help, some people participated more actively. There was a sense that we all contributed to the experience, that we were all, for a minute, like a big supportive family. I hope that's how the actor feels as well!

Walking onstage with no rehearsal to perform a script you’ve never read must be terrifying! On opening night, the role was played by award-winning actor, writer, singer, and comedian Larry Owens. The rest of the run features many of Portland’s top performersI’ve picked out a few I hope to go back to see to see how the experience changes...or stays the same...depending on who's performing it.

NASSIM is more than an incredible piece of theatre. It’s an incredible experience. And one I recommend to anyone and everyone, especially if you’re feeling a little lonely and in need of some community. It runs through May 12. Details and tickets here.

Photo credit: Shawnte Sims/ courtesy of Portland Center Stag


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