Happy Yalda, Iran!
A message came from out of the blue from director Stew Glen that I had been recommended for a fast-approaching project in Taipei, would I be interested. I’m easy and probably would have said yes just to get out of the daily grind of 2018, but, as directed, I checked out the synopsis:
With a script in a sealed envelope awaiting them on stage, penned by Dissident-Iranian playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, without benefit of a director or rehearsals, 8 solo artists blindly tackle this greatest of actor challenges before a claustrophobia-inducing, omniscient audience.
Oh yeah, this was the play that Brook Hall told us about in the Actors Boot Camp a century ago in the spring of 2018. The mystery and spontaneity of the concept appealed to me immediately and I promised myself that if Brook managed to put it on in Taiwan, I’d do everything I could to be involved. When he left for Vienna, it seemed like it would never see the stage in Taiwan and I let it slip from my memory, but Brook Hall is returning to Taipei for one last New Year, and this event was built around the idea of giving him a send-off that he likely won’t forget.
So the paragraph above led me to rediscover this work almost like a badminton racket revealed by melting snow in early March–only much, much lovelier.
From what I could recall, the playwright had been barred from leaving his home country of Iran for doing something that the regime was not happy about. He wrote the play so that it could travel throughout the world in his stead. No one is to know what the play is about, and audiences are sworn to secrecy and can only discuss it with others who have seen it performed. I told Stew I was certainly interested; it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime.
Not so fast, here, read this, he is paraphrased as having said. He shared his screen with me and had me read cold the first page or two of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop-Frog,” a short story which I am sure I have read before–and out popped another badminton racket. We were ready for a game, and it started like this:
I NEVER knew any one so keenly alive to a joke as the king was. He seemed to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kind, and to tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. Thus it happened that his seven ministers were all noted for their accomplishments as jokers. They all took after the king, too, in being large, corpulent, oily men, as well as inimitable jokers. Whether people grow fat by joking, or whether there is something in fat itself which predisposes to a joke, I have never been quite able to determine; but certain it is that a lean joker is a rara avis in terris.
About the refinements, or, as he called them, the “ghosts” of wit, the king troubled himself very little. He had an especial admiration for breadth in a jest, and would often put up with length, for the sake of it. Over-niceties wearied him. He would have preferred Rabelais’s “Gargantua,” to the “Zadig” of Voltaire: and, upon the whole, practical jokes suited his taste far better than verbal ones.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Hop Frog.”
Now that’s a minefield of lexis for ya. It took me a minute to get my sea legs, but I must have done ok, as they put me in the show.
I’ll be performing second on Sunday the 30th at the Red Room. Four actors will perform on Saturday and two more will come after me. I’d love to see all seven of the others’ performances, but that would not be kosher. Here we all are in the introductory video produced by Tobie Openshaw.
As much as I would like to, there’s very little I can do to prepare for the event. Googling is out of the question. I’m sure there are corners of the Internet where the play is discussed openly, but I’ll wait until after New Year, or at least until the bus ride home from Taipei, to find out.
How does one prepare for this? All I know is that I will read for about an hour to an audience that surrounds me. I’ve been reading short stories out loud to get a feel for my voice and the kind of dynamics that I’ll have to play with over an hour. Drinking less coffee, and more water. And I’ve been taking a ride on the playground mood swings of life. Just this morning, a hundred or so kindergarteners came to campus to sing and dance the Xmas shuffle, which was just the boost I needed in a break between two classes which were watching the last few minutes of the Diary of a Young Girl. (Spoiler: It was the part where Nazis came and took the family away to their fates.)
I can only imagine the emotional range that will be required. Stew emphasizes the size of the stage and how he hopes to inflict the actors with claustrophobia by staging the play to be performed in the round. The feeling of being cabined, cribbed, confined, while not alien to me after almost two decades on this island, will certainly be ratcheted up. Still, the anxiety I am currently feeling about performing solo in front of a crowd, some of whom are “in on it” already having already attended any of the previous five stagings.
Tonight, the night market came to my apartment. There were a hundred families from my community downstairs queueing up for their Xmas buffet feasts of burritos, egg rolls, chicken wings, dim sum, popcorn, guava and cherry tomatoes. Promptly at 1900 hrs, the courtyard was wall-to-wall with humanity in a way that gave me an intimate taste of what it meant to be claustrophobic. The feeling breathed down my neck and up my shirt-sleeves in just such a way to remind me that I have no idea how serious claustrophobia that cannot be escaped after two minutes with an elevator ride is. But I got the DNA of the feeling all over my clothes and I’ll wear that shirt on Sunday the 30th (of December at the Red Room performance space— that’s a link to a Facebook event, is that kosher?) when I attempt to sight-read this play. Keep them fingers crossed, will ya? Happy Holidays!
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