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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 5:01 PM

click to enlarge Kathy Randels (right) works with members of the audience in White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. - COURTESY POOR YORICK
  • Kathy Randels (right) works with members of the audience in White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.

Iranian playwright Nissim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a once-in-in-a-lifetime proposition, though more for the actor than the audience. The actor doesn’t see the script until handed an envelope on stage at the beginning of the performance. The novelty of the playwright’s manipulation of those circumstances means what follows is a series of surprises, and that is part of the appeal of Poor Yorick’s production at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church.

Producing the show requires a pool of actors to do one-night stands of the solo show. Poor Yorick recruited Kathy Randels (the performance I saw), Lisa D’Amour, Devyn Tyler, James Bartelle, Michael “Quess?” More and Clare Moncrief.

The actor reads the script, which tells stories, commands action and ponders the production from Soleimanpour’s perspective as he writes his letter to the future. In 2010, when he wrote the work, Soleimanpour had declined to participate in Iranian national service, which generally is military, and thus could not get a passport (he has since traveled abroad).

There are similarly conceived Iranian works of a political nature, such as Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film (which Panahi shot on an iPhone while under house arrest and had smuggled to France). Soleimanpour does not sound like a political dissident, but there are parts of the drama in which he questions the state’s authority and how people cope with state power. In the text, he seems to explore the idea of coercion, but in interviews, Soleimanpour has said the piece is not about Iran and that it actually questions the nature of obedience.

Much of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is funny, both in Soleimanpour’s observations of the world and in what he asks the actor to do. At times he commands and at times he politely solicits. He dwells on mundane concerns and in describing himself confesses that he’s very hairy. He asks the audience to share photos of the production (and his Twitter feed includes recent photos).

The title refers to the subjects of a series of stories and games the actor animates with the help of the audience. Those exercises are both light-hearted and ominous. There also are more ominous props and propositions, and some of the drama rests on how convincing their menace is.

An experienced actor and director, Randels ably handled the work’s narrative and orchestrated its improvisations. There’s little time to do more than what the text demands, and she kept the piece moving. Randels cultivated a willing audience, and the piece works best as a semi-collaborative event.

Having the actor and audience experience the show for the first time together is an amusing premise, and Soleimanpour’s monologue is often clever. It’s an unconventional and intriguing theater experience.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit
Jan. 26-27
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, 583 Broadway St.
Tickets $15 cash, $18 credit card

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