Weeks before seeing White Rabbit Red Rabbit at the Westside Theatre, I spent an hour researching everything I could about the show. As someone who likes to be prepared for theatrical experiences – I’m the type of person who listens to a cast recording until I know every word before seeing a show – I wanted to break down the most mysterious piece of theatre being performed in New York. It was my intention to be the smartest, most prepared person in the room.
The description of the play White Rabbit Red Rabbit leaves much to the imagination. The premise is that an esteemed actor takes the stage and is handed a previously unseen script the night of the performance. Without rehearsal, direction, or a set, it is up to the discretion of the actor and audience to discover and interpret the material together. There are vague and cryptic press notes for the production and reviews share little in the way of what is seen on stage.
During my investigation, one of the only tangible resources I found was an article written on Playbill.com in which producers Tom Kirdahy and Devlin Elliott explained that it was part of playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s vision that the show be as vague in its description as possible. Despite the producers claiming it wasn’t a “gimmick”, I went into the experience skeptical of the material.
The omniscience of the evening is heavy in the room as people take their seats. There is a palpable sense of uncertainty that doesn’t often exist within a theatre. The only thing I knew for sure was that I would see Justin Bartha read something and was expected to remain open-minded.
It’s this uncertainty in which the magic of White Rabbit Red Rabbit exists.
Audience participation in the play is required from beginning to end, which forces everyone to give their undivided attention to the actor lest they be seen as a weak link in the room. As someone who seeks out theatrical experiences in which I can lose myself to the action on stage, it was immediately clear to me that White Rabbit Red Rabbit would force me out of my comfort zone.
As I quietly wished to avoid being part of the central action – there were a handful of audience members who became central to the story-telling – my mind remained rapt as I tried to unravel all of the layers of the play.
Soleimanpour characterizes parts of humanity and identity without arrogance; the story is ultimately about society, human nature and, in a dark twist, the actor and audience walk away at odds with one another.
Soleimanpour is not allowed to leave his native Iran, as he is a conscientious objector who has refused to take part in military service, which is mandatory for all Iranian men. Unable to travel, Soleimanpour has turned his isolation to his own advantage with a play that is written in English.
Unlike almost every other theatrical experience, the audience is encouraged to keep their cell phones turned on and at points are encouraged to take photographs and share the show on social media. Soleimanpour also shares his contact information, through the voice of the actor, and encourages the audience to reach out to him directly following the performance.
Although an open-mind and a willingness to participate in the artistic discovery, even reluctantly so, are essential to appreciating the material, White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a must-see experience that shatters the fourth wall and challenges views on societal norms in a way unlike anything else currently on stage.
For more information about White Rabbit Red Rabbit, including a full list of scheduled actors, visit WhiteRabbitRedRabbit.com.