As the world has now officially crossed over the one-year mark of a global pandemic, nothing and everything feels like it’s changed. Time has flown by, yet we continue to make memes about it still being March 2020. We acknowledge the increase in burnout and screen fatigue, yet we continue to turn to our devices to stay connected to others.
The perception of time is just one of many themes pulled apart and put back together in The Javaad Alipoor Company’s production of “Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran.” This installment of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s 2020-2021 season is fast-paced, chaotic, and chock full of statistics on consumerism, climate change, and globalization that seemingly seek to shock the viewer into questioning existence, as an individual and a society.
…takes online, virtual theater to a new level…
Co-created by Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley, the Fringe First Award-winning play tells the story of two young lovers, Hossein and Paravash, living in Tehran, Iran. Unlike most stories though, this one goes from end to beginning, from deadly car crash to first public Instagram post. And while most love stories have a back story, this one goes way back. The viewer also gets the backstory on Hossein’s father, pre-internet, pre-Korush Mall, and pre-oil money. The story goes back even further, to a local village woman looking out to sea and a white man looking over the land he’s about to take. Then, just as quickly, the story goes back further still, to the Aztecs and Göbekli Tepe.
“Rich Kids” starts with Javaad Alipoor and Peyvand Sadeghian discussing social media, hyperconnectivity, and the surge of content creation, before asking the viewer to grab their smartphone. By demonstrating how to join an Instagram Live, walking the audience through the bio of the @shoppingmallsintehran account, and discussing the impact of hashtags like #richkidsoftehran and #mallwave, Alipoor and Sadeghian prepare the viewer for the show and highlight social media’s ability to blur the past, present, and future.
Broken into three parts, the production shifts back and forth between whatever device the viewer uses to stream the show and their smartphone. When it’s time to return to Instagram for Hossein and Paravesh’s story, the show flashes a notice to switch screens. If directed to Instagram Live, there’s a momentary delay to allow folks to connect. If directed to the @shoppingmallsintehran feed, Alipoor and Sadeghian continue to appear on the show’s screen, trading dialogue with each other, reminding the viewer to scroll down through corresponding posts.
It’s important to note that the Instagram Lives and streaming visuals include filters, distorted effects, which may impact some viewers’ experience. The streamed show includes closed captioning, and on Instagram, each post contains the script Alipoor and Sadeghian read from, which makes it easier to follow along when things speed up.
When Hossein and Paravesh’s story reaches the very beginning, the production starts to wrap things up, including the Instagram account. “Some things we dig up, and some things we bury.” Sure enough, when the viewer checks, the @shoppingmallsintehran Instagram feed is gone, disappearing as quickly as it appeared at the beginning of the show.
“Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran” takes online, virtual theater to a new level, highlighting the dichotomy of private life versus perfectly curated public life. What are we actually leaving behind by posting to social media? Are we really moving more quickly towards the end of the world, or has technology simply changed what we consider to be fast? What is reality, really?
Running Time: 60 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Contains profanity, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and death. Please note that visuals include flashing, distortion, and fast-changing effects.
“Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran” runs until April 18, 2021. Tickets are $15.99 per person and can be purchased here or by calling 202-393-3939. An Internet connection is needed to watch the show. While not required, viewers are encouraged to have Instagram open on a second device to get the most out of the production.