Not so long ago, Nassim Soleimanpour, unable to travel outside of his native Iran, wrote a play that was intended for the rest of the world. “I was like a man who doesn’t even exist,” says Soleimanpour. “I was a young playwright writing at home who thought, ‘I have a message,’ and so I put it in a bottle and gave it to the ocean.” The message was received. By the time he was permitted to travel in 2013, his play White Rabbit Red Rabbit had already been performed in 20 languages across the globe.
The idea behind White Rabbit Red Rabbit was that a different actor perform the piece each night just moments after being handed the script. It was imperative that the performers know very little about the show going into it, which was difficult, because both the play and its playwright were quickly garnering international acclaim—including in New York, where Rabbit received critical acclaim and ran for more than nine months. Whoopi Goldberg, Bobby Cannavale, F. Murray Abraham, and Nathan Lane were just a few of the A-list actors to try their hand at the “play no one knows anything about.”
In a similar vein to Rabbit, Soleimanpour’s newest play NASSIM welcomes a rotating cast of guest actors to perform the play directly after removing it from a sealed envelope. After traveling the world with the show, directed by Omar Elerian, the Iranian playwright is in New York for the American premiere at New York City Center, presented by Barrow Street Theatricals.
Getting NASSIM and Soleimanpour into the United States was not an easy feat considering the U.S. travel ban, and yet it did not deter the playwright from wanting to bring the show here. “The more I feel I’m separated, the more I feel that there’s an urge to connect,” says Soleimanpour. And connection is at the heart of NASSIM, a play that, though the details are kept secret, explores the power of language and stories to unite.
“I hope that’s what makes the show important,” says Soleimanpour. “It’s a tool to reunion, to make friends, and to accept that we can achieve and cross borders—maybe even get rid of them.”
NASSIM plays Off-Broadway’s Stage II at New York City Center (135 W 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues) produced by Barrow Street Theatricals and Jean Doumanian. The play runs through April 20, 2019. For a schedule for performers, visit BarrowStreetTheatre.com.