Last evening at the always innovative Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks, I had the privilege of watching one of their solo fest picks for this season, Nice Iranian Girl. Written, produced and acted by Layla Rumi.
This is more than just a story about an immigrant making it in America. It is more about a strong young woman retelling her life in a way that is interesting, witty and often unbelievable. Reliving over and over the losses, tears and fears of being taken away from the grandparents she loved in Iran, she ventures cross the globe to her final destination in America. Layla shares the intimate details of her life from Tehran to Los Angeles via London with so much heart and soul.
As the audience travels this solo journey with Layla, we come to understand her strength, wisdom and creativity in fighting for what she wants. And what does she want more than anything? It is to come to America, work in the entertainment field and star on the MTV channel she has worshipped as a child. And with the tenacity of a stubborn child and the wisdom of an old soul, she makes it all happen. Getting a gig on Current TV and G4’s “Attack of the Show,” she moves onto hosting Randy Jackson’s MTV hit “America’s Best Dance Crew.” This young, strong, immigrant woman has made her dreams come true. Of course along the way, personal demons arose trying to thwart that journey. Not willing to let anything hamper her, Layla finds herself in unusual and sometimes comical circumstances. It took a lot of nerve to travel alone to London at 15 years old to escape a miserable situation with her mother and stepfather. She insisted that she had to leave that oppressive place or she would have shriveled like a flower left on a window ledge without water. It was go and venture out, or die. In her case, there was no choice, she had to run and run far where she would be able to get some form of nourishment.
It was in London that she found her ‘family’ and nourishment. This would be just one of many major changes in her life. Always by her side was her best friend, Emma and her free spiritedmother Julia. Both graciously shared their home and the love and support she needed. As an only child far from her birth home and the nurturing of grandparents who raised her early in life, Layla did not hesitate to accept their kindness. It turned out to be a good choice where her confidence and vision both grew.
The next major decision was coming to Los Angeles where self-discovery, past mistakes, and talent all emerge simultaneously.
It is in this town of overdone faces and egos that Layla found her rising voice and center. Perhaps it was through the unspoken wisdom given to her as a child by a never forgotten grandmother, or perhaps by the mature personal choices she was making when faced with unexpected motherhood. Only she really knows the answer to this question. In bringing the audience with her on this very private journey, she has shown us her true self. It is brave and compelling. There is no doubt that this multi-talented woman is courageous and directs her own path. Good luck Layla and thank you for allowing us in to share with you a part of your life.
Richard Embardo directed this play with a simple notion that the energy of the story and star is the focus.
Layla seems frantic at times as she moves around the stage, a bit distracting. Altogether the staging is simple and it works, the three moveable boxes and one large brick wall in the background don't really add much to the storyline. The sparseness is purposeful and is meant not to distract from the strong story. It is effective; however, it might be more effective to have some screen off to the side highlighting Layla as a young child, teenager and MTV star. Layla’s continuous movements around the stage may be a subtle nod to the continual movement of her life from country to country, family to family.
The nice thing about watching this type of performance at the Whitefire is that this theater recognizes the importance of original performances and singular voices as art. It is because of the vision of Bryan Rasmussen, artistic director, that audiences get a chance to see a typical theater at its best. He has a knack for the right actors, the right stories, and the perfect venue for solo performances. Congratulations on the 35th anniversary season as well!
Nice Iranian Girl shows January 14-February 11, 2017 at the Whitefire Theater
13500 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.
Saturdays at 8:00pm only.
For tickets: www.niceiraniangirl.brownpapertickets.com or (818) 838-3006