RICH KIDS: A Crash of Revolution and Wealth at Woolly Mammoth — REVIEW
Two young adults right out of the #RichKidsOfInstagram hashtag––or in this case, #RichKidsOfTehran––fatally crashed their yellow Porsche after a night of partying and the autopsy was more sociopolitical than any EMT could have imagined. This did, in fact, happen in 2015, and the ensuing drama has now been taken up by Javaad Alipoor in Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. In a live-streamed production from Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Alipoor and Peyvand Sadeghian guide us through the events that led to this, one Instagram post at a time.
In an admirable turn towards the digital, “Rich Kids” asks its audience to keep their phones out and log onto a specially-made Instagram account to which members are granted access shortly before the performance. This is, we are told in an overlong introduction, to reflect Alipoor and co-creator Kirsty Housley’s belief that, just as Instagram feeds go ceaselessly back into the past, so do the dominoes of time and consequence.
It’s a cute gimmick that ostensibly physicalizes the disconnect between artifice and reality, but more often than not means you are craning your neck as the performers narrate and instruct you to “scroll down” the unconvincing Instagram account. Come to think of it, keeping your head down as you’re scolded for being online and allowing for the collapse of civilization seems to be exactly what its creators intended, with the performers’ duologe often devolving into a patronizing screed.
This is because, for all the thought-provoking cases made about modern aristocracy and the unknowability of time, the work is designed for older generations to nod in condescending agreement at the reckless behavior of these darned, petulant kids–it takes on the nasty “Pick me!” aura of a teacher’s pet eager to stand out from his classmates. Hate-scrolling through someone’s social media accounts is too real a phenomenon, and one which could absolutely be worked into a dramatic piece––ask anyone born after 1985 and they might devise one on the spot. But here, the righteous indignation at conspicuous consumption becomes a cloying combination of technological determinism and a lack of tech-awareness.
The play is at its most beguiling when charting intergenerational connections between the Iranian Revolution, the youth who now benefit (and starve) from it, and the laissez-faire attitude bred by millenia of earthly exploitation. Alipoor’s striking, almost archeological research into human over-expansion makes me wish he’d leaned into the theoretical frameworks that loom just offscreen; detailed examinations of vaporwave aesthetics, revolutionary fallouts and our dying mall culture get buried beneath an ultimately tiring Instagram bit that seems to chase the very trends it chastises. An ‘Instagram Live’ component of the already-too-much feed only deepens the transgression.
I was reminded of Bill Wurtz’s excellent “history of the entire world, i guess” video that made its cyber rounds a few years back, though Thom Buttery and Tom Newell’s stunning video designs far surpass Wurtz’s purposefully crude renderings. Still, at least that YouTube-ready dissertation bought into the inherent absurdity of trying to find meaning in a history that only accidentally allows for human consideration, and made space for enlightening laughs.
As we are helpfully reminded by Alipoor, we do, in fact, live in a society. And the first iPhone was released closer to the fall of the Berlin Wall than to today. And sometimes, the sons of revolutionaries grow up to become markers of gross wealth exhibition and the fall of mankind. Take all of this however you will––after all, it’s just history.
“Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran” streams now through April 18, 2021. For tickets and more information, visit here.