By Mira Saraf
One Pure Longing: Táhirih’s Search, playing as part of LuminaTO, is a beautiful piece that combines poetry, music and movement into a mosaic of the expression of faith and one’s love for God.
My friend Elizabeth and I did not arrive early enough for the first-come first-serve seating, and were greeted by a full house with only a handful of seats remaining together.
When we accidentally sat in seats reserved for “Luminato Guests” (aka the volunteers), a harried volunteer took it as a personal affront and almost physically pushed us into another section (ironically one with a better view). Key learning: get there early so nobody has to “assist” you in finding seating.
The pre-show pandemonium was in sharp contrast to the opening of the piece. While the theatre at 7:55 loosely resembled a monkey cage at the zoo, the show was serene, quiet and calming. It was like drinking chamomile tea after a heavy metal concert.
The only exception here was the distracting peppering of the light of cell phone displays at random throughout the show. It was almost as if members of the audience all seemed to remember an urgent message that absolutely needed to be communicated ten minutes into the show. Nonetheless even this haphazard flickering could not ruin the ambience of the show.
Large pieces of fabric veil the cast, masking their movements ever so slightly. The strong voice of the Iranian cast member singing verses gives even us who don’t understand Farsi the feeling of being called to prayer. The costumes were simple enough; mostly all black with leggings, but the use of fabric as both veil and prop is deft, skillful and effortless.
Táhirih was an Iranian Baha’i poet who appeared in public without her veil at an 1848 religious conference. She stood for freedom against oppression, and was celebrated for her courage in spite of her execution after the fact.
This show is not for those bound to traditional guidelines of narrative, for it is more like a multidisciplinary work of art than a play. It is deeply symbolic as it is more a response to Táhirih’s poetry than an account of her life and struggle.
The cast members speak and communicate with each other through dialogue, song and movement. If you know any Farsi, and can understand the original poetry your understanding of the piece will be even deeper.
After it was over Elizabeth and I just looked at each other in awe. We knew we were overwhelmed and we knew we had seen something truly profound, but we couldn’t quite articulate it in words. Later on we would agree that dialogue would fail to achieve the depth of what the medley of dance, poetry and music gave us.
When they announced the talkback session, we stayed, as we felt that the opportunity to understand the director’s intentions would enhance the experience so much further. They described the creative process behind the play as more of experimentation in prayer and sharing their love of faith rather than a formal scripted show. It gave us an insight into the individual journeys of the director as well as each of the cast members. The actors hailed from all different faiths and ethnic backgrounds, all incredibly talented vocally, and physically.
A true message that this show hopes to deliver is to take away the taboo associating with mixing faith with art. One thing I definitely took away from it is that perhaps we are taking the wrong approach to solving religious disputes. Perhaps it is through the arts, not through politics that we can gain understanding of each other’s Gods and move towards acceptance.
– One Pure Longing: Táhirih’s Search runs until Jun 14 at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street)
-Shows run at 8pm.
-Tickets are $35.
-Tickets can be purchased online (Ticketmaster) or at the door. Tickets at the door are limited.
– Photo: Actress Kate Digby, photograph by Bretta Gerecke and image courtesy of Luminato.