NASSIM by Nassim Soleimanpour (Bush Theatre/Why Not Theatre/ Luminato). At the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to June 16. $24.25$50.07. luminato.com. See Continuing, page 40. Rating: NNNN
Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour had an international hit with his political play White Rabbit Red Rabbit, which, after premiering in Toronto at Summer Works in a 2011 production by Volcano Theatre, has been performed more than 1,000 times by everyone from Stephen Fry to Whoopi Goldberg.
Soleimanpour wasn’t present for those performances, a chair representing his absence because he couldn’t leave his native country after having refused to take part in military service.
He is present for his new, equally fascinating play NASSIM, however, even if it takes a while for him to appear.
A guest artist, different every show (on opening night it was The AMY Project artistic director Nikki Shaffeeullah) follows instructions on a screen about opening up a box in which Soleimanpour’s script is waiting, unseen.
What follows, sharply directed by Omar Elerian, shouldn’t be spoiled – it’s part scavenger hunt, part language course – but it involves learning a few phrases in Farsi, playing some games and sharing photos, souvenirs and ideas about family and romance.
Soleimanpour’s text is alternately clever, funny and moving. At its heart, it’s about the universal power of storytelling, and the irony that his plays have been performed in so many places except his home country.
The way he deals with that last issue is, simply, remarkable, the motifs and images coming together in the moving and heartfelt final minutes.
Shaffeeullah, spontaneous and grounded (love how she added a non-gender-specific riff on the phrase “ladies and gentlemen”), made an affable, articulate guest, eliciting contributions from the audience with warmth and humour.
The list of guests is impressive and includes actors Allegra Fulton, Anand Rajaram and Karen Robinson, novelist and playwright Michael Redhill, writer/broadcaster Amanda Parris and Volcano’s Ross Manson.
I’m tempted to attend these other performances, if only to re-experience the feeling of a room full of people sharing a common language to witness the struggles and joys of the human condition. GLENN SUMI
LUMINATO REVIEW Nassim Soleimanpour’s NASSIM adds life and light to Luminato.