White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour is a play with no rehearsal and no director that can only be performed by an actor who has never seen the script before once. DMV Theatre has been presenting White Rabbit Red Rabbit, with a different actor each evening, since Sept 24th, 2013. In my experience, having seen the play with four different actors over the last week, I strongly recommend that audience members go into the experience, and it is an experience more than it is a play in the conventional sense of that word, as blindly as the actor does. So, with that said, if you have not seen White Rabbit Red Rabbit I would advise you to stop reading this “review” now and come back to it after you have had your first experience with the play. That is just a suggestion; however, your choice is up to you.
White Rabbit Red Rabbit was written by an Iranian playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, in 2010 at a time when Soleimanpour did not have a passport, and therefore could only leave Iran through the words of his play. Since simultaneously being produced by Toronto’s Volcano Theatre and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with dramaturgy by Ross Manson and Daniel Brooks, White Rabbit Red Rabbit has been performed in venues all over the world and has been translated into fifteen different languages.
My experience with White Rabbit Red Rabbit has been a fascinating one. I have seen four performers tackle Soleimanpour’s script: Samantha Wilson, Rhys Bevan-John, Kathryn MacLellan and Ann-Marie Kerr and each evening it has come alive in a brand new way that the audience experiences together. It is vulnerable and communal and Soleimanpour is present in every line, dramatically and unexpectedly. There is an element of danger implicit in the text and it reminds us that even though we have become conditioned, as Canadian citizens, to feel safe, that danger is actively all around us. We are all in the process of dying, after all. We are encouraged to understand that just because we, at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, are very certain that there is nothing to fear, that we are able to trust the conventions of our society, our city, our theatre and our country, that this is not the same for all people everywhere and will not necessarily be the same for us in the future.
The play works on a beautiful metaphorical level. It is about theatre as much as it can be seen as being about the constructions of our societies. It encourages us to question our conventions of authority, our own willingness to be obedient, to be passive, to do what is expected of us, and also how far we trust those that sit with us in the theatre, who share our community, who make the decisions or climb toward leadership. These are not necessarily the ideas of Nassim Soleimanpour, he has just provided us with the framework, with the potential for something powerful to happen and for deep discussions to emerge. The way that each audience member interprets his story of the white and red rabbits will be different, and does not necessarily capture the playwright’s intention. Or, perhaps it was his intention to facilitate endless possible explanations.
For me the play draws connections between the playwright’s words being the authority of a text and the actors who have been conditioned to submit to this authority. The audience are the passive witnesses, who watch the actors carry out the playwright’s plans. This can be seen as being a metaphor for how a government, or any hierarchy of power, works in most societies in the world. How complicit are we, the silent majority, in the actions that our Prime Minister makes? Is it partially my fault, for example, that Tarek Loubani and John Greyson are still being held without trial in Egypt?
While watching White Rabbit Red Rabbit the first time my mind was spinning with thoughts of how this play mirrors societal constructions and I focused ardently on Soleimanpour and wondered about his life in Iran and tried to compare my imagined sense of his experience there with my own experience here. While I felt very connected to Soleimanpour in all four performances, while watching Rhys Bevan-John and then Kathryn MacLellan and then Ann-Marie Kerr my focus began to shift from my experience in the audience toward the experience of the actor standing before me. I realized that White Rabbit Red Rabbit also exposes the process of the actor to the audience. Watching the way the actor engages with the script, with the playwright and with the audience reveals so much about the vulnerable and complex ideas that each particular actor has about his or her role in the creation of the theatre. This is also intrinsically linked to each actor’s own distinct personality and psychology. Therefore, White Rabbit Red Rabbit can be seen as an exploration of our societies’ relationship to authority and the audience’s relationship to a play, and also an exploration of the actor’s relationship to a performance text and the actor’s relationship to the audience.
White Rabbit Red Rabbit has been a fascinating theatrical adventure for me. Each time I experience the anxiety of not knowing so beautifully inherent to the theatre and I remember that, really, we never know anything in life for certain either. Any moment could be our last, although we are fairly certain it won’t be; the possibility of the unexpected and the unknown, like an envelope with a script in it that we’ve never seen before, is always there. Ultimately, that is what makes each moment so vividly alive.
White Rabbit Red Rabbit plays at 8pm at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street) until October 5th, 2013. Tickets are $15.00 and available at this website or at the door. There will be a different actor for each performance and the remaining artists are: Chris Shore, Susan Stackhouse and Pasha Ebrahimi. If you come more than once all return tickets are only $5.00. Come join the experience.
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- kathryn maclellan