‘White Rabbit, Red Rabbit’ at Theater Alliance by Jessica Vaughan

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FIVE STARS 82x15
Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour breaks every expectation an audience might have for his innovative play White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.

 Nassim Soliemanpour/ Photo courtesy of Nima Soleimanpour.

Nassim Soleimanpour/Photo courtesy of Nima Soleimanpour.

One actor comes onstage and is handed the script, which he has never read before, and a vial of poison. Thus begins this utterly unique piece that I am not confident even calling a play. Soliemanpour is a conscientious objector in Iran, which means he can’t leave the country and though he talks about this, this isn’t a play about politics but about theater itself. It is part staged-reading, storytelling, interview, comedy sketch, magic show, audio book, and part play. The audience is integral, constantly called upon to answer questions and act out the scenes.

Soliemanpour uses a metaphor of rabbits to discuss human instincts as he quizzes both actor and audience on everything from our age to blood type, asking, “Did you laugh? How old are you? Are you beautiful?” He spends as much time on who we are and why we are all sitting in the audience as he does on the stories of the rabbits and what he calls the “rules of the circus,” his metaphor, it seems, for life in a human society – in Iran or the U.S. or anywhere else we gather together. How do we form our opinions? Why do we need to connect with each other or to hurt each other?

DC’s Theater Alliance is very used to cutting edge theater like this. This is their 11th season of producing socially conscious, relevant, and impactful theater.

Michael Glenn. Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre.

Michael Glenn. Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre.

Local actor Michael Glenn was the reader for the evening who opened the script as he walked onstage to a chair, a table with two glasses of water and a ladder. In a spooky coincidence, he has the same birthday as the playwright, which we all discovered during one of Soliemanpour’s insatiable questionings. Glenn has a wonderful speaking voice and did well with the text, as curious as us to find out what would happen next. He took it far beyond a cold reading as he was asked to make an insane decision by the end of the play.

The only other person involved was the stage manager William E. Cruttenden III, who handled all of backstage. There was no director.

I gave this five stars, but stars are almost beside the point. This is not a play in any traditional sense of the word, so how can it be rated? Judging it against other works is impossible. To rate anything, I must ask, did they do what they set out to do? Did they do it well? Was it worth doing? For White Rabbit, Red Rabbit the answers are a resounding, “Yes! Yes, and five times: Yes!” I loved it for two reasons, because it is something entirely unique, which is nearly impossible to do in this day and age of continuous iteration, and because it asks hugely important questions of the audience about the nature of life itself, which made me laugh and made me think, and made me feel. What more can you ask from any work of theater?

Running time: One hour, with no intermission.

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White Rabbit Red Rabbit plays through December 16, 2013 at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th Street, SE, and at The Anacostia Playhouse – 2020 Shannon Place SE, in Washington, DC. Further dates and locations throughout 2014 will be scheduled at the end of this run. Purchase pre-reserved tickets online or name your own price at the door.

16 November     Capitol Hill Arts Workshop        Nadia Mahdi
23 November     Capitol Hill Arts Workshop        Gwydion Suilebhan
02 December     Anacostia Playhouse                Michael Tolaydo*
08 December     Anacostia Playhouse                Adele Robey
15 December     Anacostia Playhouse                Jacobi Howard

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