Theater Review: RICH KIDS: A HISTORY OF SHOPPING MALLS IN TEHRAN (Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival)

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by Tony Frankel on January 9, 2021

in Theater-New York,Virtual


If you think Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is mind-blowing, or the way Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. could put history into context is dumbfounding, or Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat is so accurate about globalization as to be disturbing, or that Julia B. Schor’s take on consumerism, The Overspent America (Why We Want What We Don’t Need), is just the tip of the iceberg, you ain’t experienced nothing like this sensation presented by Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. Drop everything, contact everyone you know, and watch Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran, livestreaming five more performances through January 17, 2021. (Each live performance is followed by a talkback on Zoom.)

Written by the redoubtable, ridiculously intelligent Javaad Alipoor — who co-narrates the one-hour mind-fuck with Peyvand Sadeghian in a split-screen — we are told this is a show about history stories and the ending of the world. Yeah, like it’s that simple. On the surface, it appears as an examination of a true-life auto accident in the rich Northern suburb of Tehran, the two rich kids who died inside, and the aftermath on social media — specifically, Instagram, an integral part of the show (you follow @shoppingmallsintehran as you watch).

But as you look at photos of bling, watches, cocaine, Dubai, et al., posted on Instagram, Alipoor — who co-created with Kirsty Housley — begins to slip in fossil fuels, Spanish colonialism, music from Detroit, a Klee painting and somehow magically has us meet at the corner of consumerism, history, and our relationship with the planet since time began. What he uncovers will blow your mind. Originally designed for the stage, British theatermaker Alipoor has adapted his interesting, innovative, insightful, almost indefinable interrogation with nifty technological savvy wrought while in quarantine.

I’m not absolutely sold that we ourselves need to be on Instagram to get lost in this work. Alipoor’s writing is so profoundly perceptive that I don’t want to be distracted from the speech in any way. As someone who detests social media (do the events in the last week at the U.S. Capitol prove my point, or what?), I’d rather have this piece talk to me about it. Yet at the same time, that internet meme attributed to Albert Einstein (with no proof) is relevant in Rich Kids: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” As we learn in Alipoor’s magical world, these kids aren’t necessarily idiots, but smart people who have been taken in by insta-popularity via social media to fill their own personal voids — a void that Alipoor fills by putting it all in a very cosmic context.

screenshots from Rich Kids courtesy of The Public

Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran
Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival
co-produced by Home in Association with Traverse Theatre Company
Sunday January 10 at 4pm ET
Thursday January 14 at 5pm ET
Friday January 15 at 7pm ET
Saturday January 16 at 5pm ET
Sunday January 17 at 2:30 ET
for tickets (free but please donate), visit Rich Kids or The Public

for more info, visit The Javaad Alipoor Co.

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