Ground Floor Theatre's White Rabbit Red Rabbit
In Nassim Soleimanpour's play, what happens is as much a surprise for the actor as for the audience
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., March 23, 2018
Playwrights are always speaking through their actors, in one way or another, even if it's along the lines of Mac Wellman (via his glossolalian Terminal Hip) having some intrepid thespian babble about "winterizing the octagon."
And now, with White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour is also having actors speak for him – but literally, and in full spoken acknowledgement of that fact, every time this play of his is performed.
You know how you go into a theatre and you often know nothing of the script, and very little about the show itself? All to the good, of course, because fuck spoilers, am I right? But in presentations of White Rabbit Red Rabbit, that's true for the actors, too. There's a different actor working solo for each performance, and they're handed the script only seconds before they go onstage – a stage mostly bare except for a chair, a ladder, a low table, and a pair of drinking glasses.
This production of the international sensation is presented by Ground Floor Theatre – now finally open for business again – and it features a lineup of some of Austin's greatest and/or most beloved performers, including several performances en Español. The night I attended, the actor was Lee Eddy – who, to be honest, I would enjoy seeing perform a reading of anyone's dullest grocery list. But the impressive likes of Owen Egerton and Zell Miller III and Esther's Follies' Shannon Sedwick are also among the local performers of this show; check the Ground Floor website for details.
And what Eddy did, totally unrehearsed, reading from that suddenly handed-over script, was speak for Soleimanpour, and follow his stage directions, and engage with the audience – as actor, as playwright's mouthpiece – to the point of bringing some of the audience onstage to act out, well, let's call it a parable. A wacky, unsettling parable that Eddy was directing the action of by reading the script that Soleimanpour had written telling her to tell us what to do. But then the audience interaction, the physical depiction of complicity entered into, ended. And Eddy was left to continue reading the script aloud, communicating its information, relating the story of the red rabbits and the white rabbits. And she did so very well, unsurprisingly – and with an attitude that, even if there had been a less talented performer onstage, you'd be like, "Oh, she's such a good sport, y'know?" She's such a good ... red rabbit? Like all the other actors have been? Like an Iranian playwright is?
Because Soleimanpour wasn't just hanging out at a coffee shop in some bright new Boise, writing the script. The playwright, who couldn't get a passport because he shirked Iran's compulsory two years' military service, was in a heavily theocratic country that's, oh, let's say not quite as happy-go-lucky as the ol' U.S. of A. or Sweden or France or ... yeah. And that's where the man was detained for years, while actors all over the world spoke his words to audiences from stage after stage after stage.
Note: Soleimanpour has since been able to leave Iran. But what this White Rabbit Red Rabbit was – and what it still functions as, in one way or another, more explicitly than most works of any sort of art?
It's a message in a bottle, tossed overboard, hungry for connection.
White Rabbit Red RabbitGround Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale #122
Through March 31
Running time: 1 hr.