Iranian Afsaneh Aayani is a prodigious and talented set designer from Houston known for her poetic, colorful and imaginative graphic sense. She has graced the stages of Classical Theatre, Main Street, Stages, AD Players, Houston Equity Festival, University of Houston, and Catastrophic with a sharp wit and deep intelligence.
Check out his biased Cabinet of Dr. Caligari sci-fi set for RUR; the arches of the church with neon borders to Magdalene’s bookthe sweet and aromatic Americana inherent in the christmas shoesthe dystopian future of graffiti-filled detritus in dog lawthe austere minimalist unhinged black and white interior of 4:48 Psychothe world of pop cartoons for Magical Mama Black Superheroor the cold antiseptic aspect of cloning in The effect. Each of his designs smells of vision, coherence and total control of the meaning of the work. She is a teacher who performs visual miracles on stage.
As a novice playwright, what Aayani has yet to master is play construction, pacing, and perhaps the most basic rule of theater: don’t get bored.
Extremely moving and immensely personal, the world premiere story told in its hour-long mixed media. nameless, presented by Teatro Catastrófico, is so close to her, so close and dear in the narrative, that she loses all perspective. This is her story after all. On her arduous journey from Iran to the United States, she provides us with vignettes instead of drama.
She leaves her home country of war-torn Iran after her baby, we assume, is killed in an airstrike. Images of Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece “Guernica” flicker across numerous television screens used as backdrops, while the seven dancers imitate Picasso’s upraised hands of innocent civilians reeling in pain. James Templeton’s video design is ubiquitous and usually more interesting than what’s in front of it.
I should mention that everyone except our heroine, the Girl (Natalie Nassar), is portrayed by one-eyed, bloodshot, hijab-wearing creatures. Faceless and impersonal, they are literal avatars of the title. A rarely used word, “unnamed” means “anonymous”. However, these dancing Cyclopes unwittingly invoke comedy, like a line dance from CBS commercials from the ’60s. Remember the CBS eye logo? That’s all I could think of apart from an episode of Twilight Zone. Not a good look or a good idea.
The girl says goodbye to her friends and parents. Putting aside her whispered paranoia, they tell her not to come back until she “changes the regimen.” She flies to the US, where she undergoes an arduous immigration process, while the Cyclopes mimic the stampeding bureaucrats impersonally moving her through the long lines, ordering, “Middle Easterners! They should go that way!”
Adam Castañeda’s choreography is site-specific, twisting and sinuous, but little more than illustrative. His dancers (Ashley Boykin, Lauren Burke, Hannah Dunning, Cynthia Garcia, Stormie Holmes, Karina Pal Montano-Bowers, Chad “Lyric” Williams), even under monkey eyes, are an uneven bunch, not as sharp as they should be. be. Williams performs a moving, albeit overly long, duet with Nassar in memory of his dead brother who died in Iran from COVID, but the dance numbers, numerous as they are, are basically a nuisance and eat up precious time on stage. .
The girl’s citizenship applications are repeatedly denied or postponed; she fights against COVID; and in the end she never becomes a citizen. That’s all for her story. The play ends as it begins. Followed by musician Hessam Dianpour, whose original music is the highlight, he sings an Iranian version of “Greensleeves” (?) while leaving the theater barefoot: a woman without a country.
Is that it, we think? That’s all there is? Where is the depth, the subtext, something significant that we should know about it? Is the superficial representation all this production? If this is a game of osmosis, we haven’t absorbed anything.
Do you know what I came out with? Aayani’s fabulous design sense that perfectly matched the Girl’s blood red comforter, sheets and pillow with her dress. That is the sign of a professional.
Innominate continues through June 19 at 7:30 pm Thursdays, 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 pm Sundays at the Catastrophic Theater at MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, call 713-521-4533 or visit catastrophictheatre.com. Masks are required. Pay what you can.