It would seem that claiming conscientious objector status—in Iran!—would be one of the scariest things to do. So maybe that’s why Nassim Soleimanpour decided to come up with a theatrical concept that is even more terrifying, not to mention quite humorous.
As a CO in Iran, playwright Soleimanpour is not allowed to travel. So he has sent the rest of the world White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, his play that mandates it be done by a different actor at each performance, without any rehearsal. The first time the actor sees the script is when the envelope is opened on stage, in front of the audience.
With the possible exception of walking naked into a dining room full of all your relatives for Thanksgiving dinner, this unprepared-actor thing is one of the scariest nightmare scenarios. But for the audience, it’s quite a rush.
On the night I saw Rabbit, Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman was the performer. And he did a smooth job with his cold reading, garnering applause from the audience several times. Of course, you won’t see him do it, and that’s part of the fun and the mystery.
Since this production is an unconventional theatrical event with tons of audience participation, I decided to continue that vibe. So after the show and then the talk-back (which happens after every performance), I asked several people from the audience, at random, to share their thoughts about the show. Here are their unedited reactions:
As an avid theatergoer, I'm always looking for something new and different. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit at CPT sounded like it just might just fit the bill. I went not knowing what to expect—and I got just that. A play that brings together the playwright, via his avatar the actor speaking across time and space, and the audience for a thoughtful and fun experience that works on multiple levels. Since the actor sees the script at the start of the play for the first time, I won't spoil the fun. Do stay for the short discussion following the play that helps the audience share some of the questions and answers that arise from the performance.
“Rabbit” is riveting. The playwright uses his talent to release himself from his circumstances. He immerses us in the ambiguous place between free choice and control by others. Control by ideas, other people, government, even the playwright himself. Yet he keeps us laughing while we are wondering: what does direct us?
Cleveland Public Theatre has put on brave productions of original theatre. "White Rabbit Red Rabbit" is no different, but at the same time is, because I was taken to a lot of unexpected places that made the play and my experience seeing it performed feel like I was listening to a voice fighting from heavy suppression to be heard. The playwright himself is from Iran, and the play was written in 2010. I felt that I was getting an accurate glimpse into what it is like to be a theatre artist in Iran today. In the Western world, theatre is a comfort we don't take for granted enough, but when I saw this production, I saw in the rawest way how brave theatre truly is, and how brave Cleveland Public Theatre is to have it performed. Joe Cimperman wasn't bad either- and I hope that when he is not doing public service, he will be on the stage sometime soon. No matter who performs it, it is a production to see.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit was one of the most creative and original productions I've seen in a long time! Soleimanpour and Cimperman definitely broke through the 4th wall on Friday night. I remember thinking that performing a play unrehearsed was suicide; little did I know my thoughts would come true! I plan on seeing this again. Kudos to CPT for yet another creative foray into public theater.
It’s me again. Since the playwright has neatly negated the need for a critic such as myself, since you’ll never see the show I saw, my opinion stands for little. Still, I found the show to be surprisingly amusing (Soleimanpour has a sly wit), and quite revealing on several thematic levels. For one, it demonstrates how a single voice, even one ripped out of an envelope, can control the actions of people thousands of miles away. Is one person speaking through another a form of freedom, or a type of censorship?
The play raises many intriguing questions, leaving the answers to you.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit
Through October 25 at the Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727.