Nassim is a retread

Nassim Soleimanpour's new show Nassim is playing The Cultch in Vancouver.

In Nassim, Nassim Soleimanpour reuses his mystery-script device. (Photo of the playwright by Studio Doug)

Nassim feels like an endless set-up for an experience that barely arrives.

Starting in 2011, playwright Nassim Soleimanpour made an international name for himself with a much better script, White Rabbit Red Rabbit. At that time, Soleimanpour wasn’t allowed to leave his native Iran, nor was he allowed to mount his scripts in his home country, so he wrote White Rabbit Red Rabbit and sent it around the world. Wherever it was performed, it was read—cold—by a different actor every night.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit is about isolation and Soleimanpour’s absence was potent: at every performance, a seat reserved for him in the front row remained empty.

Soleimanpour, who is now based in Berlin, uses a similar device in Nassim—to reduced effect. Again, he invites a different actor each night to do a cold reading of the script, but this time he appears onstage and interacts with them without speaking, through overhead projections. And once again, the subject is interpersonal barriers, but this time it’s about the difficulties Soleimanpour encounters as someone living outside of his culture of origin.

Unfortunately, the content is simplistic. The audience teaches Soleimanpour some English—or a few words of the language that dominates wherever he is playing. Soleimanpour teaches his fellow actor and the audience several words in Farsi. “Yeki bood. Yeki nabood” translates roughly as “Once upon a time”, for instance. And he tells us about how his mom taught him to read.

The playwright is reaching for the elemental. He has set out to explore the primacy of language in identity and the importance of storytelling in evoking shared understanding. But the terms of his exploration are obvious and not particularly resonant. Every conversation that I have with refugee friends about their experiences as refugees has been a thousand times richer and more meaningful than this show was for me—because those conversations are filled with the details and complexities of lived experience.

Near the end, an overhead projection says something about how we have shared “the story of a small family in Iran”, and I thought, “No we haven’t. I’ve seen an outline, but I haven’t been immersed in a tale.”

Technically, there are some pleasing textures in Nassim. Through the screen, we go into the world of Soleimanpour’s phone, for instance, so that he can show us photos of his family and the house he grew up in. And, near the end of the piece, there’s some live interaction—which I won’t give away—that finally brings a meaningful relationship into the theatre. It moved me.

For the most part, though, I was bored by Nassim. I appreciate its intention to make cross-cultural connections, but it’s all way too easy. Summing up the evening, projections state: “For a moment, no one was a foreigner”, “For one moment, everyone was at home.” But I felt like I’d been asked to buy the world a Coke.

NASSIM By Nassim Soleimanpour. Directed by Omar Elerian. Produced by Bush Theatre and Nassim Soleimanpour. At The Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Tuesday, May 7. Continues until May 19. Tickets.


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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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