It’s said that bad luck can follow a person around, but what about success?
Amir Reza Koohestani rose to prominence on the international theater scene in 2001 with Dance on Glasses, a quietly gripping play he wrote and directed about the end of a love affair. At the time, Koohestani was an industrial engineering student in Shiraz, Iran, with no theater experience to his name. However, his show took on a life of its own, and changed his life, as he toured with it abroad year after year. He wrote other plays and became Iran’s most famous contemporary playwright, but still that first work from 2001 was the only one theater producers wanted to invite, so much so that he finally declared he would never do the show again.
Well, there’s another expression: never say never.
In Timeloss, Koohestani returns to Dance on Glasses, albeit through a backdoor. The play repeats the situation and dialogue of its predecessor, under a clever pretext: the two actors of Dance on Glasses (played, in reality, by a different pair) reunite 10 years later to dub a video projection of the show, whose sound has been compromised. We find them in rehearsal, seated at separate tables, scripts before them, working on a central scene of Dance on Glasses, as the video plays above their heads. They interrupt rehearsing to argue over what happened the night of their breakup; he tries to endear himself to her, she resists his advances. But as soon as it seems like they are referring to their own story, when they return to script, it’s the same language in the play, too. Where does fiction end and “reality” begin? Where does Timeloss break free of Dance on Glasses, or does it?
Koohestani works with fragile material here. Like an ancient map of Babylon, brought finally to the light of day, Timeloss seems ready at any moment to vanish into dust, as pure illusion, the idea only of that which existed first but has also receded into the past. The cast wears time’s marks compared to their younger “selves” but their gestures mimic precisely those captured on video, as if the actors in rehearsal have no agency of their own, either written by the script or falling into habits learned and which now define them irrevocably. And compared with the performance of Dance on Glasses immortalized on video, theirs is ephemeral, lasting only the duration of the script.
Yet even with the same language and movement, Timeloss tells a new story, in the faces and bodies of these older actors. Words spoken ten years ago, repeated from a distance of experience and loss, do not sound or mean the same in the present as they did in the past. The pair swaps lines also, so that the accusations and denials of their verbal sparring are flipped: who left whom and why? Memory too has cast its long shadow. A voice-over spoken by the man frames the rehearsal, a monologue of regret and longing. What is lost over time and what time is lost in trying to recover the past?
As in Dance on Glasses, the lovers (Hassan Madjooni and Mahin Sadri, cooly intense, intensely detached) part ways with a sense of what they will lose but with no idea that they might alter what time and fortune have cast. The only thing missing is the dance that made Koohestani famous, a seemingly impossible balancing act. The piece ends with warnings from the voice -over: if he could send his lover back in time, he might not be able to change the outcome of their relationship but he could save many others: the earthquake in Bam, friends and family who have died. In Timeloss, the time for dancing and straining for equilibrium has come and gone; only loss remains.