Barrow Street Theatricals
New York City Center Stage II, New York
Depending upon your view of the world, Nassim is either a deceptively simple piece of theatre or one that is deceptively subversive. Either way, it is based on a very clever conceit.
Rather than deliver a standard well-made play, Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpur has created a small-scale fantasy in which the text is delivered by a different invited guest every night. To add to the fun, the lucky performer is totally unrehearsed and has had no sight of the script before delivering it.
Given that brief, Broadway regular Ken Marks proved to be a very calm but clubbable personality i.e. someone perfectly suited to this kind of carefully scripted but apparently haphazard and potentially embarrassing performance.
At the start, after a brief introduction from a producer, he is thrown in at the deep end, ordered to repeat words presented on a large upstage screen, aware that if he accidentally reads out anything shown in italics he will look like a bit of an idiot—inevitably, any performer will do exactly that a couple of times at the very least.
What slowly unfolds is the tale of a playwright whose work (including this show) has been performed around the world with the single exception of his home country, none of Nassim Soleimanpur’s writing ever having made it onto a stage in the original Farsi.
Slowly and occasionally painfully, Marks builds confidence as he unfolds the story of a man who has been censored in his home country but wishes to express himself somewhere, in a language that is not his own.
To redress the balance to an extent, much to the amusement of the audience, Ken Marks and then a trio of volunteers begin to learn some rudimentary Farsi in order to deliver the kind of short, simple fairytale that would typically be the lingua franca of a bright Iranian three-year-old.
About halfway through the 70 minutes, when viewers have got the hang of the show, it transforms as first we discover that Nassim is in the control booth only just offstage and then, if the clapping and cheering is loud enough, can be persuaded to deliver act two in person on stage, in eloquent silence.
The language lessons have a purpose and allow both the playwright and, by proxy, everyone in the house to communicate directly with his mother back home, who has never had the pleasure of watching a single sample of her son’s increasingly successful output.
What seems like a sweet tale has a much more serious purpose, highlighting the ways in which writers in so many countries are still prevented from expressing themselves fully without censorship or, in some cases bans, exile or even imprisonment. As such, Nassim is not just a bit of fun but also a serious artistic work that fully deserves this latest outing in what is fast becoming a wide-ranging global tour.