“One”: Musical Chairs at the Push Festival

Un (One), Mani Soleymanlou
Un (One), Mani Soleymanlou

On the opening night of ONE at the Cultch, the Historic theatre was filled with guests buzzing with curiosity. At three minutes to eight, the theatre was almost at capacity, yet there were still an unusually large number of empty seats. These unfilled chairs had been brought in specifically for the occasion. Row after row of lightly cushioned metal chairs faced the audience and covered the entire stage.

“If it’s just a one man show, who are all those chairs for?”

Someone whispered.

In the next hour triple threat writer/director/actor Mani Soleymanlou would sit in almost every one of them.

These chairs would quickly transform to become the chairs of Mani Soleymanlou’s many classrooms across the globe. These chairs would inhabit the living rooms and dining rooms of Mani’s numerous family homes. These chairs would be transported from Iran to Paris, to Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec. They would be the patio furniture on his grandmother’s balcony. They would become people too: teachers, friends, family members, warriors, Iranians fighting for their freedom.

These chairs would represent struggle and emptiness. They would become the airplane seats Mani filled again and again as he moved, or rather was moved by his parents from city to city, country to country, and back again to visit the homeland, like a game of musical chairs he was forced to play.

“I don’t like the word immigrant” Mani tells us, “I never wanted to migrate anywhere.”

There is no fourth wall, here. Mani Soleymanlou speaks to us directly. He makes eye contact. When someone’s phone rings during the show, he stops to say, “you can answer that, I don’t mind.”

Throughout the play, he uses humour and wit, exaggerated accents and hilarious mime.

“I know how it is, cheaper on weeknights and all, really, go ahead…”

At times Mani Soleymanlou twists three languages into one sentence translating only with his body and universal human emotion. He captivates the audience with his memories and comedic reenactments of his childhood and youth.

As a young Iranian boy he had never seen a urinal until he moved to Paris, where apparently he ‘used it’ wrong! He was forced to learn that trick pretty quick, among other things. The day he had perfected the style and attitude of a typical French boy, he was whisked away to start a new life in Canada (which is a country, according to Mani, that only pretends to be bilingual).

Everywhere Mani moved he was too much of this and not enough of that: too foreign, too Iranian, too French, too different, with a last name too difficult for other Canadians to pronounce! In this production, however, he is simply too charismatic and too charming not to love.

ONE is Mani Soleymanlou’s profound personal journey to uncover his roots, and define his own identity. This award-winning one-man show is funny and heartfelt, entertaining and educational. It even includes Mani’s own synopsis of over fifty years of Iranian history, so we can all catch up really quick. Whenever the material gets too heavy he lightens the mood with music, mime and dance, then jumps to a new chair and yells “New scene!”

We sit on the edges of our own chairs in anticipation, wondering what on earth he’ll do or say next.

ONE is Mani Soleymanlou’s open-ended answer to the questions that have been thrown at him his whole life.