Is it possible for a playwright to transcend continental borders, language barriers, and the imaginary glass wall separating actor and audience? Iranian playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, wanted to find out in his grand experimental play White Rabbit Red Rabbit, now on stage at Cleveland Public Theater.
A different actor performs the play each night without rehearsing or reading the script before stepping on stage set with only a ladder, chair, and two glasses of water. It’s such a radical idea; it’s hard to expect it to work.
The play doesn’t feel broken into scenes or have a planned direction of development. At some moments it’s like watching a mouse wind his way through a maze to cheese, but on the surface, it works.
The Actor becomes the mouth of Soleimanpour who, at the time of writing White Rabbit Red Rabbit, was lawfully forbidden from leaving Iran. The Actor (Darius Stubbs), unsure of the next line, converses with the audience for Soleimanpour, in the raw and unprepared manner of a real conversation. The Actor must piece together his thoughts and bumble through any ridiculous stage direction he reads aloud. However, you do not lose interest as you wait and watch him think through each line and action. Sitting in the audience, it feels like the audience and the actor journey through Soleimanpour’s 75 minute memoir together.
Through this conversation, hovering between rough sketch, comedy, and drama, Soleimanpour attempts to paint a crude image of modern day Iran. However, his political commentary falls flat on American ears—who can only sing a tune in the key of freedom. Soleimanpour wrote his play in English to connect with a broader audience, but he did not count for the risk that his public does not know and cannot relate to Iranian history. Because of this, the larger part of the first half of the play failed to land with the audience.
However, the greater themes of White Rabbit Red Rabbit seemed to resonate with the audience in the postproduction talk. The Actor asks members of the audience to participate or perform, on stage and off, within the play. The intent: to demonstrate omnipresence of the law and authority. Only a reserved empty seat in the front row stands in for the detained playwright.
But, the drama created by indicating repeatedly that the playwright is absent, eclipsed when Soleimanpour speaks personally to the audience through the Actor. The intent is further lost knowing that most playwrights are not present at every production. Even so, Soleimanpour proceeds to ask the audience to philosophize an absent thing’s ability to pierce through time and space:
He asks us to contemplate how hate exceeds the limits of death and passes through generations.
He asks if we live as observers to unjust laws and authority because we make such a complacent audience—performing roles the Actor assigns.
I unreservedly commend the performance of Darius Stubbs and all of the upcoming actors who will take on the challenge of White Rabbit Red Rabbit. When these actors open the manila envelope, script enclosed, they will improvise a symbolic reenactment of a Soleimanpour essay on oppressive regime politics. White Rabbit Red Rabbit surpasses the emotional embodiments of a play. It is a rally cry to all persons free and exploited to not be afraid to stand up and become the Red Rabbit.
What: White Rabbit Red Rabbit
When: October 08, 2015 October 25, 2015
Where: Cleveland Public Theater Parish Hall (performance), The Church (postshow reception)
For ticket information visit http://www.cptonline.org/ or call 216.631.2727