I wasn’t planning on writing on my experience seeing this show. I loved it, and was deeply moved, but I wasn’t sure what to write until this morning when I woke up for the fifth time in two weeks with the performance on my mind.
On Sunday two weeks ago, I saw “Creatures,” a collaboration between Boston and Tehran. Going into the performance, which took place in the Touch Art Gallery in North Cambridge, I was expecting a view into a Iand and culture that I have no familiarity with, and was excited for that experience. What I was met with was exactly what I was hoping for, through an eye that Ineither expected nor experienced.
The performance was two pieces set back to back, with an introductory scene, all adapted works from Iranian playwright Mohammad Rezaee-Rad; the first piece was performed by two members of Boston Experimental Theatre, Lorna Nogueira and Jared Wright, while the second was mainly performed by Atefeh Nouri, a collaborator from Tehran. The piece did not focus on the difference in cultures. Nor did it iterate the similarities of cultures. Far from what I expected in a cross-cultural collaboration, it didn’t overty compare or contrast the cultures at all. Rather, I was given the chance to experience the similarities between people. There were of course some cultural differences and similarities present in the piece, given that each half concerned itself with the translation/manifestation of very different specific journeys, but the central focus of the performance did not harp on the cultures themselves. Both of these journeys presented had a specific theme in their presentation that served as the link in connecting these two chains: eye contact.
The seemingly simple device of eye contact is an intensely powerful tool in the quest to form a true connection with a person, yet so many performances allow it to sit unused in their toolbox, opting for the inherently separating safety of the fourth wall, or the physical distance of a proscenium. I saw six productions in the last two weeks. One was off my mind before I even left the theatre. Another lingered for two days while it slowly dissipated into a memory. “Creatures” still jumps and writhes within me. There is no doubt in my mind that masterpieces can be created on a traditional proscenium stage. For me, however, this mechanism serves to create a separation between the story and the audience, which leaves me remembering the play as (at the most) something I bore witness to. “Creatures” was not merely a performance that I saw; I was part of it. The performers and I were connected, along with everyone else sitting in the Touch Art Gallery that Sunday evening. There was an undeniable connection between actor and audience member, manifested through the profound moment of prolonged eye contact. A meeting of pupils. A caucus of irises. A connection of souls.
It has been said throughout history that the eyes are the gateways to the soul. I believe it goes beyond that; true connection can be formed instantly through deep and honest eye contact. Empathy can be instantly instilled. One eye may be a gateway, but connecting two can be a powerful bridge. I now have a connection to the culture of the woman performing the second half of “Creatures,” because I had a connection with her, all made possible through a theatre performance in an art gallery, simply because we had a moment to truly see each other.