How does one review a play that you’re not supposed to talk about? That is the conundrum facing this critic and others after seeing White Rabbit Red Rabbit, a play that's unlinke any other performance piece.
Written by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, it is a one-act, one-person play so shrouded in secrecy that not even the person performing has read a word of it prior to stepping onstage. That person — on opening night, it was Brierley Resident Acting Company member Liz Mikel — is handed the script in a sealed envelope and told to perform whatever is written to the best of her ability.
What follows is billed as "theater entertainment meets social experiment," and it is that and more. Both the actor and the audience go on a journey of discovery, never quite sure what’s going to happen next. Since she was reading the script throughout, Mikel was never performing in the usual sense. Instead, she was forced to react to any new developments as best she could, with results that were expectedly mixed.
Unlike most other plays, audience participation is key to the proceedings, and the willingness of those chosen to go along with what they’re asked to do impacts the effectiveness of the show. Full disclosure: I was randomly chosen by Mikel to participate, and without giving anything away, there is a vast difference between watching someone perform from 10-20 feet away and having them do it directly in your face.
Without delving into specifics, the play is full of questions, but relatively few answers. When Soleimanpour wrote it in 2010, he was living in Iran and obviously curious about the rest of the world, as well as wanting to share his life perspective beyond his country’s borders. The script reflects those desires, even if he has no way of finding out the information revealed over the course of the play.
Ultimately, the play’s success lies in the confidence the actor brings to the material. Mikel did well, but she displayed a tentativeness throughout. She still earned plenty of laughter and applause, but a different approach might have garnered even more. Results will differ, of course: 39 more actors are scheduled to perform the play, including each member of the Brierley Resident Acting Company except for Chamblee Ferguson, and local standouts like Kelsey Leigh Ervi, Julie Johnson, Drew Wall, and Tina Parker. (DTC will announce each performer on Facebook the day before he or she performs).
While perhaps not the most profound experience you will have at the theater, White Rabbit Red Rabbit is unique, and something that must be seen to be fully understood. With so much else that is spoon-fed to us with our entertainment, it’s great to experience a little mystery.
White Rabbit Red Rabbit plays in the Studio Theater at Wyly Theatre through July 1.