An actor receives a sealed envelope with the script upon stepping on stage before an audience. The first lines the performer reads acknowledges the situation: “I’ve begun to read, and I have NO IDEA what’s going to happen.”
Sounds wild? It is.
Written in 2010 and premiering the following year, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, by the Iranian playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, offers quite an unusual shared theater experience for both the actor and the audience.
Both the performer and the audience are launched on a complicated 75-minute storytelling adventure that requires “obligatory participation” from those watching the play (yes, audience members are selected for activities). With no rehearsal, set, or director, the actor must show a tremendous amount of theatrical courage and spontaneity.
Produced by Other Only Windows and performed at Pure Life Theatre, Sidney Cara Fowler, a newcomer to the Triangle theater community, bravely took on this acting challenge. Without preparation, she began to read with a somewhat playful tone that shifted to a more neutral one as she relayed the core of the piece: the white rabbit, red rabbit story. Gradually, she settled into a narrative role, channeling the playwright’s message without quite knowing how the story ends. Though she seemed hesitant at times, Fowler managed to add some needed emotional depth.
So, what’s the point? Well, that’s rather complicated as well. Nassim Soleimanpour was 29 when he wrote the play. Unable to leave his country because he refused to participate in Iran’s compulsory military service, he decided he would let his words travel for him, speaking directly to an audience through the performer of his script. For Soleimanpour, “It tastes like FREEDOM to be able to travel to OTHER worlds through my words.”
“It’s a timeless travel: one with no need for a passport.”
The performance becomes, in a sense, a conversation between actor and audience on topics ranging from censorship and conformity to free will and suicide. Some subjects are approached directly, while others bubble up through playful antics. Throughout, the playwright is pushing his audience to explore what it means to be a suppressed writer. He craves response, giving his email (firstname.lastname@example.org), so he can feel connected, like he’s been in the room too.
But this play does something else as well. The witty script is itself an experiment in trust. Soleimanpour challenges participants in his drama by the fact that they are watching the performance of his words. With clever, allegorical storytelling, he has offered a theatrical exercise in compliance: are we the white rabbits or the red rabbits in that cage? It may just be a bit of existential gaslighting, but it is a thought-provoking ride.
Other Only Windows’ production of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit has closed. For a complete schedule of future productions, visit https://www.otheronlywindows.org/.