By Brian Scott Lipton
Few people in the world truly understand the powers and perils of language – to connect, to divide, to speak love, spew hate, make us laugh, produce tears – than a playwright. And few playwrights have the same depth of understanding as Nassim Soleimanpour, an Iranian author who has never seen one of his works performed in his own country or in his native language, Farsi. Well, until now.
Mind you, not all of Nassim now being presented by Barrow Street Theatricals at MTC Stage II-City Center under Omar Elerian’s razor-sharp direction, is spoken in that foreign tongue. However, the bits and pieces of this incredibly honest, often humorous and consistently surprising show that are in Farsi carry an incredibly strong impact. And that’s because they’re being heard not just by us, but by Soleimanpour, a now-German resident who just arrived in New York as a working artist on December 4. Knowing this, one can’t help but be aware that being at Nassim is not merely another night at an Off-Broadway theater; it’s a momentous occasion.
However, Soleimanpour, who is a vital presence off-stage and then on-stage for the work’s entire 80 minutes, isn’t the one saying these words and phrases. The speakers include some on-stage volunteers, a few audience members (not always because they’re asked), and, primarily, a different guest actor each night who sees the script for the first time during each performance (as was true of Soleimanpour’s last NYC outing, “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.”)
Hard as that is, the intrepid guest star is actually asked to perform multiple acts of bravery. The show – which ultimately serves as a lovely meditation on the universal subjects of childhood and friendship — relies heavily on the actor forming both an instant bond with the audience, and, far more importantly, an instant bond with Soleimanpour. At the December 7 performance I attended, those formidable duties were handled with remarkable grace and great humor by former “L.A. Law” star Corbin Bernsen (perhaps not so coincidentally, a playwright himself). Obviously, your experience will not be the same.
But the message will be. Communication, verbal and otherwise, is perhaps the greatest gift human beings can share with another, and any opportunity to do so that fosters stronger cultural understanding and shared experience, no matter your place of birth, should never be wasted.
Photos: Joan Marcus
Nassim is at Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center (131 West 51st Street). Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.NYCityCenter.org or by calling CityTix at 212-581-1212.