Nice Iranian Girl
Reviewed by Katie Buenneke
Through February 11
Nice Iranian Girl, Layla Rumi (a.k.a. Layla Kaleigh)’s one-woman show at the Whitefire Theatre, feels half-baked. The 50-minute monologue, which plays weekly in Sherman Oaks as part of Whitefire’s Solofest, follows Rumi from her early years growing up in Tehran to 2009, when her daughter was born in Los Angeles.
Rumi, best known for her hosting gigs on Attack of the Show and America’s Best Dance Crew, was a young girl during the Iran-Iraq war. During that time, she was occasionally fearful for her safety, but mostly she lived in awe of her loving grandmother, who raised her as her own (Rumi’s mother left when she was a child to try to better both their lives).
Eventually, when she was 12, Rumi’s mother eventually invited her to London, where the self-proclaimed nerd had a hard time fitting in due to her race. She befriended a classmate named Emma, but they were separated when Rumi and her mother moved to Virginia to live with her new stepfather. Rumi and her stepfather didn’t get along, so Rumi ran away from home and went back to London, where she moved in with Emma and Emma’s mother. Unsatisfied with her life in London, where she worked in the club scene — and certain she would become a VJ on MTV, — Rumi departed for America again a few years later, this time bound for Los Angeles. She turned to partying and drinking heavily to avoid dealing with her relationship with her mother, which got her in trouble with Al Gore’s company, where she was working at the time (It turns out the former Vice President didn’t like it when his employees modeled for Maxim). Rumi eventually started turning her life around, though, and has since had a good career (the kind she’d always dreamed of) working for MTV and becoming a mother.
The show zips along pretty well, but never dives too deeply into any aspect of Rumi’s past. Its strongest moments are when Rumi gives specific details about people she’s met, but the plot moves too quickly for us to be able to dwell on any of them. The events feel both glossed over and shoehorned into a conventional plot (girl has a crush on Mario Lopez, girl dreams of being an MTV VJ, girl gets job hosting an MTV show with Mario Lopez). The show would benefit from featuring more colorful anecdotes.
Rumi herself isn’t particularly good or bad as a performer. She’s good at making light of a tough situation, but that contributes to the show’s tonal problems — at times, it’s unclear if we’re supposed to be laughing with her or feeling bad for her. There are moments where it seems like she’s searching for a line, though she recovers quickly. But what’s most odd is that her reenactment doesn’t always feel authentic. Too often, it feels as if we’re observing a façade Rumi has put up to protect herself, which is antithetical to the show’s content. She willingly exposes the mistakes she’s made in the past, albeit in a way which still makes her out to be a “nice Iranian girl,” and not the paragon of sin she seems to expect the audience to see her as.
In a solo performance, the soul of the show comes from the performer’s vulnerability on stage. Unfortunately, Layla Rumi’s autobiographical one-woman show feels too guarded to let the audience in. Of course, a performer should never reveal more than they’re comfortable with, but by the same token, if Rumi doesn’t want to share those moments with the world, why include them in a solo show in the first place?
Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, Sat., 8 p.m.; through Feb. 11; (800) 838-3006 or www.niceiraniangirl.brownpapertickets.com. Running time: 50 minutes.