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Playwright Nassim Soleimanpur. Photo by Joan Marcus

Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour was once given the gift of a wet garment. Yet random presents are requested from audience members during his latest off-Broadway play, Nassim. This deeply personal and profound theater experience from the author of White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a 75 minute interaction between the playwright, the audience, and a new actor at every performance.  To describe it in detail is to reveal too much. It is best experienced with an open mind and a tender heart.

Recently, Manhattan Digest saw the show with stage and screen star Marin Ireland. Days later, we phoned Soleimanpour about his experience of bringing the show to a New York audience. The Berlin based scribe, who speaks three languages (Farsi, English, and German) has been performing the Barrow Street Theatre production since December. It will run through Saturday, April 20th.

MD: Have you had any actors who completely screwed up and didn’t grasp the concept?

NS: That’s very rare. It takes some time for an actor to understand what they are doing, but eventually, the story reveals itself and we realize that we’re not just doing crazy things, but that there is something more serious behind it. Marin was the only actor in 300 shows who was able to spell “Ghooghoolighooghoo” which is Farsi for “cock’s crow.”

MD: Any actors on your wish list?

NS: I don’t cast the show, nor do I meet with the actors before the show–even on the day that we perform it. the real pleasure for me is to meet all of these new people who are really amazing.

MD: You had some real challenges with obtaining your visa to get to the US. Can you describe that process?

NS: Being an Iranian, I need a visa pretty much wherever I go. Since the travel ban came into place (and we are at the top of the list) unless the application is for a student visa, it’s almost impossible for an Iranian to get an American visa.  I suggested to American producers that we do it five or ten years from now, but  they were stubbornly following up. They hired a lawyer, we had to file a petition, and then Senator Gillebrand’s office got involved. We applied for a waiver. We had to prove three things: 1) That it would do financial harm to the American producers because they have already invested 2) That I’m well-known for the work I do and 3) That I would do no harm to your country. The result was that I arrived on December 4th and we had the dress rehearsal on December 5th.

My wife couldn’t make it. She is also the executive director of my theater company in Berlin.  I haven’t spent any time with my wife in the last four months, which is heartbreaking for a country that is based on the ideas of freedom.

Guest actor Kate Arrington. Photo by Joan Marcus.

MD: Your father is a novelist. Do you intend to branch out into other forms of writing in addition to playwriting?

NS: I’ve always been open to that idea. I studied set design actually. There are a few more things I want to do in theater. I’m currently writing a radio play for Audible.

MD: Do you write in your native tongue of Farsi?

NS: No. I write in English in the first draft. Then, I have editors who know what I want. It’s a long process and it’s really boring. That’s probably why I’ll never write a novel in English (laughs).

MD: At one point in the show, there are gifts solicited from the audience. What are some of the more unique gifts you’ve recieved?

NS: We did the show in Copenhagen and someone gave me a wet pair of pants. I don’t know if the giver had been biking or what. It was really gross and funny. I’ve also recieved house keys and car keys. Someone gave me a necklace and told me to give it to my wife. In Korea, an older lady gave me her earrings and told me to give them to her mom. I’ve also been given food. In New York, a lot of people have given me metrocards. In fact, someone recently gave me an unlimited metro card. We have a lady who has watched the show 28 times and she brings in special gifts which is so nice of her. 

MD: You told American Theater Magazine: “I think the entire world belongs to all of us. I understand borders have been there for protection, but I think we can pass this phase—we are not dangerous to each other, we don’t need borders.” What do you say to the opposition who believe that walls and borders make us safer?

NS: Did the wall make China safer? Did it make Berlin safer? If I’m friendly towards you, I will never need a guard because you will not attack me. Scientifically, you’re only scared if you are doing something wrong. You need a wall inside yourself to protect other people from yourself. We all carry that monster inside of us. Who are we as a people anyway? Am I Iranian? Am I German? I actually feel more British than anything.

MD: I agree. I think that the beauty of this show is that it reflects our commonalities over our differences. After New York, you’ll be taking this show to other countries, right?

NS: Yes. I can say that I’ll really miss the New York audience. They’ve been really fun. But after this, we’ll go to Canada to Edmonton, Vancouver, and Quebec. Then, we’ll go back to Europe. I have to find the right balance though because I want to continue doing the show and working on other projects.

MD: I wish you all the best with it.

Barrow Street Theatricals presents Nassim through April 20th New York City Center Stage II 131 W 55th St, New York, NY For tickets, visit http://www.barrowstreettheatre.com/

Upcoming Actors include:

Sun, Apr 7 @ 2:30pm: Allyn Burrows, Shakespeare & Company Artistic Director (Bug, Killer Joe, Manchester by the Sea, Company Men)

Sun, Apr 7 @ 7:30pm: Greg Kotis, Tony Award winner, Obie winner (Urinetown, Pig Farm, Yeast Nation)

Tues, Apr 9 @ 7:30pm: John Rothman, Emmy Award Winner (“Birdland,” “One Mississippi,” “Separate But Equal,” United 93)

Wed, Apr 10 @ 7:30pm: Will Eno, Pulitzer Prize Finalist & Obie Award Winner (Thom Pain (based on nothing), The Realistic Joneses, The Open House)

Thurs, Apr 11 @ 7:30pm: Todd Almond, Lucille Lortel Nominee (Girl From the North Country, Iowa, On the Levee)

Fri, Apr 12 @ 7:30pm: Noah Galvin, Lucille Lortel Nominee (Dear Evan Hansen, Alice By Heart, “The Real O’Neals”)

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