You may have already heard a little bit about Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. But probably only just a little bit: secrecy is an essential precondition to any performance of his script. I hesitate to call White Rabbit, Red Rabbit a “play”; it’s not a drama with characters and plot, but rather a scripted piece of storytelling-cum-performance art, with a sly conceit: the actor performing Soleimanpour’s script does not know what he/she will be reading until the moment he/she has opened an envelope containing the script on stage, in front of the audience. From that moment on, the evening unfolds as a kind of meta-meditation on author-ity, coercion, and the ease with which humans can be manipulated into complicity in the oppression of others (or in our own oppression).
Soleimanpour wrote this script six years ago, at the age of 29, when he was unable to leave Iran due to his refusal to serve in the military (a precondition for obtaining a passport). The script captures, for audience members living in more openly democratic societies, the dynamic of living under conditions of oppression by capitalizing on theater’s inherent hierarchies – that is, the subservience of the actor to the script and the implied contract of “play” between actor and audience. Both actor and audience members are asked to do many things in the course of the evening, and as in any theater event that involves audience participation, the (un)lucky sap who gets tapped may find herself doing something she wouldn’t normally agree to do (or finds psychologically, ethically, or physically uncomfortable). Soleimanpour’s mischievous move is to turn our willingness to go along for the sake of the show against us, exposing both audience and actor alike in acts of coercion and betrayal.
I’ve probably said too much; the program insert admonishes “NO SPOILERS.” So I’ll turn to a safer subject: praise of the performer. No actor can perform this play twice, so when you see White Rabbit, Red Rabbit you’ll see a completely different show; but I had the very good fortune to witness the masterful Ingrid Sonnichsen, who dove in gamely, adding a wickedly sardonic sense of humor to the performance and infusing it with warmth, honesty, and presence.