In the course of this unusual performance piece, the actor and the audience learn a bit of Farsi, the author’s native language, and actor and author share stories of their lives and likes, and become friends. There is audience participation and volunteers are called for. The playwright eventually joins the actor on stage but remains silent, communicating by pointing to the script which is projected so that the audience can see the author’s questions and instructions to the actor. The play is a series of exercises, games and tests.
What becomes clear is that the subtext is communication between nations and cultures. Nassim was not allowed to leave Iran to see performances of his White Rabbit Red Rabbit and he has never seen one of his plays performed in Farsi. By the end of the brief play the actor and the audience know a good deal more about Iran and Iranian culture than when they arrived at the theater.
Obviously the play will change a good deal at each performance based on who the guest actor is and he or she has to develop a quick rapport with both audience and playwright from the beginning. It is also like watching a circus perform without a net as anything can happen. Among the guest actors who have already appeared have been playwrights Craig Lucas and Tracy Letts, and stage and screen stars Brad Oscar, Amy Ryan, Michael Chernas, Linda Emond, Michael Shannon, Michael Urie and John Gallagher, Jr.
At the performance under review, the guest actor was director Seth Barrish, co-founder and co-artistic director for the The Barrow Group and who has staged both the Broadway and Off Broadway productions of Mike Birbiglia in The New One. He immediately established a charming, self-effacing rapport with the audience, growing more comfortable over time. When Nassim finally is talked into joining him on stage, he also proved to be an engaging and appealing presence, though a silent one. Directed by Omar Elerian, who staged the world premiere at London’s Bush Theatre, even at 75 minutes the play seems a bit on the light side as not a great deal happens though different performers may react differently with different audiences and its charm may not work on all theatergoers. Nevertheless, Nassim is a unique evening in the theater for those who give themselves up to the experience.
Nassim (through April 20, 2019)
Bush Theatre (London)
New York City Center Stage II, 131 W. 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.Barrowstreettheatre.com
Running time: one hour and 15 minutes with no intermission