[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of “Pantea (Everything) in Exile” written and performed by Pantea Ommi, directed by Kimleigh Smith, produced by Embrace Your Cape Productions as part of the Hollywood Fringe Adjacent – A Festival of Solo Shows.
Few of us can imagine living Pantea Ommi’s story. An immigrant story. A young girl’s story. A brown-skinned, dark-haired child, running from a country torn apart by politics and religion finding herself, while still in the bosom of her family, without her father, in a country full of light-skinned, blue-eyed children with no understanding of who she was….propelling her deeply into her own self doubt. But a girl whose name means ‘everything’ would have something to say…
This is Pantea’s story and she tells it with truth and grace and a wicked sense of humor. Escaping Iran with her mother when the Islamic theocracy took root in the late 80s, her father stayed behind promising to follow them, but weeks turned to years and he never came.
They found shelter with the rest of their family who settled in the US and made a good life for themselves. But the connection a daughter has with her father is deep and that abandonment must have broken her as a child, no matter how powerful the love all around her.
This story and the heartbreakingly brilliant telling of it is why solo shows are so impactful. Pantea needed to tell us about her life. From the beginning to the present. And you can feel the intensity of that in the waves of story, from hilarious to moving and everything in between. She is a gifted actress, but her real power lies in the writing of this piece. How she links every flaw she perceives within herself to her heritage, her father, her culture, her interpretation of who she thought she should be…and how determined she was to become someone else, so hard it was to be herself, a girl who wasn’t loved enough by the one person who mattered most. These are themes that resonate within us all, no matter where we are from. They can unite us if we let them, connecting us all with the most base human instinct not be enough.
She skips from moment to pivotal moment in her life, reliving it, reinventing it, returning without regret, but with purpose. Discovering these stories must be like therapy. But therapy isn’t easy and it’s a long, long road. This brilliant and meaningful play walks that fine line between a deep dive into a life, and an effortless determination to entertain an audience. Making “Pantea” as inviting as it is revelatory. Let’s just say it takes a courageous soul and willingness to be absolutely and sometimes, brutally honest, to walk that line. Pantea Ommi is both…and then some.
If you have the opportunity to see Pantea and her gorgeous solo show, don’t hesitate to take it…
Where have you come from?
Do you know?
From within that glorious sanctum.
Search your memory –
do you recall at all
that sweet, spiritual state?
Then you’ve forgotten all that!
And so, you are bewildered
and wandering …
You sell your soul
for a fistful of soil!
Is that a fair trade?
Is that all you’re worth?
Return the soul,
and know your own value!
You are no servant, no slave –
you are Lord, you are King.
from the heavens
they have come:
beautiful, joyous, hidden beings.
(Translation by Omid Arabian)