By Nassim Soleimanpour. Directed by Omar Elerian. At the Cultch Historic Theatre on Wednesday, May 8. Continues until May 19
“No matter what you speak, mum means ‘home’.”
Adam Grant Warren said this toward the end of Nassim, the new piece by acclaimed Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. Each night a new actor performs Soleimanpour’s script, sight unseen. Live video images of a stack of papers are projected onto a large screen on-stage, in which the actor’s words and stage directions are revealed page by page by the playwright himself, though we see only his hands in Act 1.
The name Nassim, we’re told, means “breeze” in Farsi, and despite this being his mother tongue, Soleimanpour’s works have never been performed in Iran in his language. His own mother has never seen her son’s plays performed. Nassim is Soleimanpour’s beautiful resolution to these issues.
By performing Nassim all over the world, he is learning English and other languages from the different actors each night, and in turn, they learn Farsi. It’s a true give-and-take as Soleimanpour’s script reveals biographical elements of his life and childhood, and the stage directions entreat the actor to do the same.
There’s a tremendous amount of humour tucked into the script at every turn. Warren finding out in real time that he was going to be speaking and learning Farsi in front of everybody was hilarious, as was Soleimanpour showing all of us the notebook where he’s written down the English word that Nassim calls for early on in Act 1. For each performance, the actor and audience are directed to choose a term that's long and complicated. Impeachment, Soleimanpour pointed out with his pen, came up almost every other night in New York.
Soleimanpour joined Warren on-stage in Act 2, but he didn't speak, communicating instead through his pen as he continued to display and reveal his play page by page. The charm, skill, and intimacy of Soleimanpour’s writing creates a sort of warm hug for the audience, and Warren’s performance was equally delightful. The bond the pair formed through the dialogue, both scripted and improvised, was pure joy and radiated from the stage.
“For one moment, no one was a foreigner....For one moment, everyone was home.” It’s lines like these that make Nassim such a uniquely healing experience. Soleimanpour has written an extraordinary love letter and a tribute to his mother and his mother tongue, and the quiet power of what unites and binds us rather than what divides.