REVIEW: Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World

7:30pm • Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023 • Arthur Miller Theater

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, a multimedia, experimental theater performance which I experienced last Wednesday, told the true story of iconic Iranian pop star Fereydoun Farrokhzad’s unsolved murder. At the same time, many stories collided to provide context for and complicate the idea of “solving” a murder mystery. The performance challenged the idea of “knowing” itself, contending with the maxim: “The more you know, the more you understand.” 

This performance was the third in a trilogy written by the Javaad Alipoor Company, named for the show’s co-writer and artistic director (as well as performer), Javaad Alipoor, a British-Iranian artist. At the beginning of the performance, Alipoor spoke to the audience and described himself as a bridge between the audience and the reality of the Iranian diaspora, one which would help us better “understand” a reality potentially foreign to ourselves. Alipoor wove his story and his heritage into the fabric of the performance, winding it around that of Farrokhzad. He also brought in another thread through his collaboration with Raam Emami, better known as King Raam, an Iranian/Canadian musician whose podcast, Masty o Rasty, has a cult following among Persian-speakers and has been streamed more than 20 million times. The show used a combination of media, including spoken word, video, and true-crime podcast to bring the three men’s stories together. 

As I referenced earlier, Alipoor prefaced the show by speaking on our constant desire to know things, in order to understand the world better, and how modern technologies like Wikipedia can serve that desire. For a moment of audience participation, Alipoor asked us all to get out our phones and use Wikipedia to look up a word shouted out by the audience: “cuscus,” a kind of Australian possum. He had us skim the page and click on the first link that looked interesting, and continue doing so, for a minute. He then used this activity to challenge the idea that reading anything on the Internet, or gaining any kind of knowledge, will necessarily allow us to understand another reality. By framing the performance in this way, Alipoor challenged the proposition that by watching a multimedia performance about the murder of Fereydoun Farrokhzad, we would somehow “understand” his murder, or the broader set of stories which form the Iranian diaspora. 

I found this performance completely fascinating, and it made me think more deeply about how I consume and use information in my daily life. For me, it highlighted the importance of cultural humility: a balance between awareness and appreciation of other ways of being, and the knowledge that we can never truly understand another’s experiences. In the absence of understanding, empathy is essential. Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World pointed out that even in our highly digital, information-saturated lives, there are some who have been made invisible to us, and it is our obligation to be aware of (and assist in) their struggles.

REVIEW: Everybody

2:00pm • Sunday, April 2, 2023 • Arthur Miller Theater

Everybody was a very strange experience. The play is based on the 15th-century play Everyman, a morality tale which uses allegorical characters such as Death, Everyman, Fellowship, Kinship, and Good Deeds, to explain how one attains Christian salvation. This adaptation, written in 2017 by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, modernizes the story into a more inclusive, interfaith exploration of morality, death, and afterlife. Jacobs-Jenkins points out similarities with Buddhist philosophy in the story’s moral framework, and builds upon those similarities by questioning reality and emphasizing points such as Everybody’s attachments to the material world and the self. He also makes the play more interactive, using a lottery at the beginning that determines which actors will play which characters, and opening the play with several of the actors hidden among the audience.

I appreciated how the affordances of the physical space of the Arthur Miller Theater, the elements of audience participation, and the blending of the cast with the audience added to the surreal tone of the play. I wasn’t entirely sure when the performance had actually started, because the “ushers” spent a long scene in the beginning explaining the theater etiquette and executing the lottery. These elements made the play feel personal and “real,” which made the more surreal scenes even more jarring. For example, immediately after bantering cheerfully with the audience and explaining the reasoning behind the play, the ushers became conduits for the voice of God, speaking simultaneously and doing simple, mildly disturbing partner gymnastics while a distorted, echoing recording played over their voices.

By chance, two different cast members sat next to me over the course of the performance. The first was there when I entered the auditorium, noisily interacting with (who I later realized were) other cast members in the audience. The second actor played the role of a random child, which meant that midway through the performance a person in a puffy Alice-in-Wonderland-looking dress entered quietly, plopped down next to me, and rummaged around in her pocket for a Fruit Roll-Up. She put one end in her mouth and unrolled the whole thing into her lap, slowly sucking the strip into her mouth. It was weird, and I was uncomfortable. I felt this brief sense of relief when I realized she was an actor, but also sort of guilty. What if those actors had just been people being people? A more critical awareness of my own “othering” tendencies was an unexpected result of the performance.

I appreciated the weirdness with which SMTD executed this production of Everybody, and I wish the audience had been a little fuller, although it was a Sunday matinee performance. The cast did a great job, and I look forward to hopefully seeing them in some other productions during the next few semesters.

REVIEW: Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters

**featured image from the performance trailer on

8:00pm • Saturday, February 4, 2023 • Arthur Miller Theater

Yet again, I was mistaken in my assumption that Your Sexts Are Shit would be a simple comedy performance. Through a combination of love (and sex) letters among historical figures, screenshots of sexts (and not-sexts), and her own constructed narrative, Rachel Mars paid tribute to the voices and stories we have historically neglected to value.

Mars took a different approach to sharing each form of writing with the audience. Each style was represented visually onstage–to the right was a chest of drawers topped with a noisy, old-fashioned carousel slide projector that cast the slightly-askew letters onto a small screen. At the center, a modern projector flicked between sexts at the click of a remote. To the left, a pristine home office complete with studio lighting and Mac were set up on a slight platform. Each location lent its own interpretation to the written words Mars read, and in the Q&A, she described how these connected with the different impacts forms of communication have on their readers. For example, there is a different kind of eroticism behind sending a letter and the uncertainty of waiting for a response than in the immediacy of texting.

Also in the Q&A, Mars shared the intentionality behind her curation of the letters and texts. James Joyce’s letters to Nora Barnacle were included first, because her chance encounter with them in 2020 was what led to the project in the first place. However, she used his letters to draw attention to the fact that while the famous author’s letters have been preserved, history has not assigned the same value to his partner’s voice. This was a common theme among the letters chosen: they represented voices, or relationships, we erase. We erase women who own their sexuality, and we erase the evidence of people in power who don’t fit our expectations of womanhood or manhood. During the performance I heard one of the older audience-members next to me asking his partner, “Are these real?” I feel like it demonstrated the extent of that erasure, where even if evidence is right before our eyes we question its integrity because it clashes so intensely with our pre-conceived understanding of reality.

Something Mars said which struck me was that she takes the letters, and the texts, “quite seriously.” While we might laugh at the brazenness of Joyce’s letters, they are still the remnants of a real relationship between two real people. While I may have entered the performance with the mindset that it would be all easy laughter (which perhaps already says something about how society has taught me to think about sexuality), I left with a newfound curiosity about the other stories we neglect to take seriously.

REVIEW: Our Carnal Hearts

**featured image from

8:00pm • Friday, February 3, 2023 • Arthur Miller Theater

I feel that I did Our Carnal Hearts an injustice in my preview for the show by calling it a “comedy performance,” because it contained so much more. There were moments of humor, but it was the kind of humor that is a bit uncomfortable, the sort necessary to make a difficult reality easier to swallow. The show dealt with the un-picturesque reality of human jealousy and competitiveness in an age of both unprecedented wealth and heightening economic disparity, made starkly visible by a performative social media culture. Rachel Mars rendered envy both relatable and ridiculous, both a vindication of those with reason for envy and a criticism of an upper class with everything that still demands more.

Much of the performance conveyed a sense of frustration, maybe even righteous anger, that felt like a justification for jealousy. For example, Mars’ use of “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. with its repetitive “All I wanna do is… (gun shot, shot, shot, reload, cash register) and take your money” and the song’s connotations of barriers to immigration and work, advanced the social themes of the performance. In another scene, Mars repeated the mantra, “Congratulations, I’m so happy for you,” her throat constricting with pent-up anger until it was more of a forced wheeze than a well-wish.

One of my favorite elements of the performance drove home the point that envy can be gratifying, but in the end it is a two-way street. It began with an eerily mocking song from the three vocalists. Mars walked out into the audience and took a seat and, speaking to the guest next to her while the sound system broadcast their “conversation” to the rest of us, introduced the premise. A fairy has arrived at your doorstep, and told you that finally, out of everyone else in the world, you have been chosen to receive a wish–but there’s a catch. Whatever you wish for will be delivered to your neighbor twofold. Assuming the voice of our collective unconscious, Mars rallied off all the riches and glories we would like to receive–before doing a double-take, recalling the catch. At that point, her jealousy got the best of her and she scrapped all of those nice ideas–instead, Mars suggested, give her mild depression. Take away half her money. Cut out one of her legs, or better yet, one of her kidneys. We all laughed, but near the end of the performance, the lights lowered, and Mars began again. A fairy has arrived at your door, but this time, it says, “I’ve just come from your neighbor’s house…”

Our Carnal Hearts gave me a lot to think about in terms of the role of jealousy in my own life, how “envy” can be a misinterpreted reaction to injustice, and who is “permitted” to feel envious. Jealousy and revenge are eternally salient themes in the world of art, and I enjoyed Mars’ modern interpretation.

PREVIEW: Our Carnal Hearts

**featured image from the Our Carnal Hearts trailer on

What: a comedy performance featuring Rachel Mars and four female singers honestly exploring envy across different areas of life

When: Friday, February 3, 8pm

Where: Arthur Miller Theater

Tickets: $12 for students, $25 for adults, available online or by phone at 734-764-2538

I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I really feel like laughter can be the best way to relax when I’m overwhelmed with the stress of everyday life. For that reason, I’m excited to attend Our Carnal Hearts this Friday night, what promises to be a hilarious and thought-provoking dive into the dark realities of human jealousy. The performance was created by British artist Rachel Mars, and based on the trailer I’m expecting music, comedy, and potential audience participation, all in the intimate setting of the Arthur Miller Theater. This is one of the final events in the University Musical Society’s No Safety Net Festival, and it is in conversation with Mars’ other performances and talks at the University this weekend, including Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters, another performance which will take place at the same place and same time on Saturday night. I look forward to sharing my notes on this show with you in the coming days.

REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

8:00pm • Friday, January 13, 2023 • Arthur Miller Theater • SPOILER ALERT

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was a painful but moving exploration of self-discovery, neurodivergency, abuse, and family. The small troupe of 8 actors and actresses did an excellent job of maneuvering between, according to the program, 15 locations, 20 characters, and 49 scenes. Their acting felt tender and genuine, their expressions and voices never played out of proportion, so it felt like I was looking in on a few moments from the characters’ lives.

I also appreciated the way the organization took care to prepare for the play’s portrayal of a protagonist on the autism spectrum appropriately: seeking actors with neurodivergencies to cast in the role of Christopher, forming a relationship with the Autism Alliance of Michigan and creating a dedicated role in their production staff for an ASD Ally/Advocate. Drew Shaw, who played Chris, the protagonist, brought the character to life with authenticity and enthusiasm.

That said, the play was also much darker than I expected, with several upsetting scenes depicting emotional and physical abuse. Mr. Boone lies to Chris about Mrs. Boone’s death; in many scenes, he swears at his son, in one instance hitting him; ultimately, he describes his abusive behavior as an accident and coerces Chris’s forgiveness by buying him a puppy. Chris’s mother, who was in an affair with a neighbor and left the family two years before the play, writes to Chris in a letter that she left because dealing with his autism put too much of a strain on her relationship with her husband and her own personal liberty. I found few redeemable qualities in either of Chris’s parents, so when the ending of the play treated their burgeoning reconciliation as a happy ending, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.

The path Chris took to courage and independence was, for me, the only truly uplifting part of his play. As he untangles the mystery of his neighbor’s murdered dog, he also unearths family secrets which eventually motivate him to travel alone across the country, a daunting mission for any 15-year-old. The play ends with Chris facing the audience, surrounded by the rest of the cast, in wonder of all he has accomplished, asking “Does this mean I can do anything?” We as the audience were left to answer that question, torn between the reality of his difficult home situation and his heart-warming optimism.