From KERA’s Art&Seek:
‘White Rabbit’ has been staged in nearly 50 countries, and Fort Worth’s Amphibian Productions is giving the play its North Texas premiere this week.
But why would anyone set up such a solo reading — with all of the loss of control and direction it entails?
One reason the playwright Nassim Soleimanpour created his play ‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’ is he couldn’t get a passport to travel outside Iran. He’d refused to fulfill his country’s mandatory national service. So, trapped in Tehran, he figured a way to let his play travel. There’s no director, no rehearsal. A different performer every show gets an envelope with the script inside, opens it – and begins a play he or she has never read.
But Soleimanpour’s passport problems have led many to think ‘White Rabbit’ is just an outcry against Iran’s repressive Islamic regime. In fact, he says, when ‘White Rabbit’ debuted in America in 2011, “the emails that I was receiving were like, ‘We know things are very hard in Iran, we know that this is what you’re talking about,” and if I could reply – I think there was a moment when I gave up, I couldn’t tell everyone, “Hey, it’s not just about Iran.’ ”
But then, recently — America had a presidential election.
“Now I receive many emails from people in your country,” he says, and they’re “telling me, like, ‘Wow, this is about the States!” And I’m like, eventually, after seven years, y’know? So yeah, it’s very political, but it’s a very general phenomenon, what the play’s talking about.”
With its story about rabbits and bears and crows, ‘White Rabbit’ is actually like an Aesop’s fable about learned obedience and the forced choices we often face in life. Ironically, after all of Soleimanpour’s passport troubles, it turned out he has such poor eyesight, he couldn’t have done his national service anyway. These days, he lives in Berlin.
It’s a historical city that’s fascinated him, he says, and it’s more or less centrally located when it comes to the different theater productions he’s been working on — like the play he wrote after ‘White Rabbit,’ called ‘Blind Hamlet.’ Once again, no director, no rehearsal, no set, but this time, not even an actor. Just a Dictaphone that invites seven audience members up onstage and gets them to act out the story.
“It’s like a ‘theater machine,’ you know?” Soleimanpour says. A ‘theater machine’ is a traditional improv warm-up in which one actor starts miming an action, any action. The other actors, one by one, add to that action, extending it, extrapolating from it, anticipating it, until all their movements are connected in sequence as if they’re robots working on an assembly line.