ONE / UN
What struck me first about One/Un is creator and performer Mani Soleymanlou’s irreverent take on his Iranian heritage and his inherited — if not practiced — Muslim faith.
Yes I realize I’m buying into the stereotype that Muslims never say anything slighting about their religion but I admit to being taken aback when Soleymanlou imitates the Muslim way of touching one’s head to the ground in prayer while muttering “nonsense nonsense” or when he puts the Qur’an and cancer in the same sentence. For that refreshing lack of reverence One/Un is a very unique show.
Soleymanlou admits to knowing nothing about the glories of Persian poetry and culture — food defines Persian culture for him — and one of his dreams for a free and democratic Iran involves being able to drink beer openly at a local bar. He seems out to prove that while he may be Iranian born he’s got the same pedestrian interests as young men everywhere.
The main purpose of Soleymanlou’s creation is a theatrical vehicle to explore his own identity an issue relevant to many new — and not so new — Canadians.
Throughout the 65-minute show he briefly traces his movement around the globe from his birthplace in Tehran to living in Paris then Toronto and currently Montreal.
He struggles with the labels others apply to him but admits he can’t figure out where he fits in either. He doesn’t really consider himself Iranian anymore as he says the Iran of today is not an Iran he knows or can relate to. (He last visited the country as a teenager.)
But he says unlike the young people in Iran who are fighting for change on a daily basis he hasn’t earned his place amongst their ranks. Nor however does he consider himself French Canadian or Quebecois.
Instead he describes an “emptiness” inside him when it comes to identifying himself culturally and nationally. However he’s also quick to assure the audience that he doesn’t consider that a void that needs immediate filling.
On the surface Soleymanlou’s show seems fairly straightforward and frankly a bit unpolished around the edges. The comic moments in the show’s opening minutes — during which he tells the audience it’s okay to leave cell phones on to take advantage of cheaper evening rates — are relatively short-lived.
And honestly the quest for his cultural identity doesn’t make a particularly gripping narrative here.
The play’s real strength lies in the less obvious — but most important — component of any theatre piece: how you engage with the show on a personal intimate level.
When I consider One/Un through that lens Soleymanlou’s take on the importance — or lack thereof — of birthplace and cultural roots incites a definite reaction within me that runs contrary to much of the material he puts forth in his play.