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The Haunting (and Hilarious) Mystery of "White Rabbit, Red Rabbit"


New York Times theatre critic Charles Isherwood calls the play "White Rabbit, Red Rabbit" both haunting and hilarious.

The theatrical experiment ran for nine months in New York, to sold out houses.

But nobody ever saw the same show.

The play is performed by one person who has never seen it or read it before. The actor has no idea what the play is about, what they may have to do on stage, or even how long it is.

The audience may know exactly what is in the script. Many in the audience come back to see the different performers and help them along. They even bring props.

Now the show is in Las Vegas for five performances, produced by the LAB Theatre. The first cold reading show was held at Nevada Conservatory Theatre last week. Successive readings will be at various theatres every Thursday for the next four weeks.

So, what's "White Rabbit, Red Rabbit" about? It's a discovery, for one. A discovery being made by audience and actor together.

It's a mystery.

It's a meditation on the nature of obedience and social conditioning.

It's funny as hell.

It makes you fall in love with the theatre again.

OK, maybe that was when I saw it with Chris Edwards performing at NCT.

With another performer, it might be somber - or scary. Well, scarier than it already is - or gets, as the reading moves forward.

Perhaps it would be good to know who wrote the play.

The playwright - whom we assume IS who he says he is - is from Iran. His name is  Nassim Soleimanpour. And, the story goes, when he wrote the play in 2010 when he was 29, he couldn't actually leave Iran. As a conscientious objector, he was forbidden from getting a passport. (He has since gotten one, and has traveled all over the theatrical world.)

Nassim Soleimanpour does not seem to have a Twitter account, though if you look him up on Twitter, his name comes up in many languages with links to performances of many of his shows, most of which he has, presumably, never been to.

Now, Soleimanpour may, in fact, be who he says he is. He may have declined military service. He may have written this play and many others. But it's the nature of "White Rabbit, Red Rabbit' that you become skeptical. How much of the given circumstances should you believe? How much should you trust? What is real? And what is just a construct enticing the audience to question the very foundations of their beliefs?

Kate St. Pierre is the artistic director of the LAB Theatre. She had a friend who did the production in Los Angeles and thought it would be a good idea to do it here. She brought it to her board, who almost immediately said, "YOU should act in it," which meant she couldn't research it. She couldn't know anything about the show other than it's a cold reading by an Iranian playwright.

"I heard just a little bit... that this was his way to try and tell the world what it's like to be alone, to be isolated," said St. Pierre.

Edwards, who has a background as a Shakespearean actor and director, says it doesn't really matter who Soleimanpour is, or if he is real.

"The piece is, I found, is so poignant as to what we're doing in the world and what we do interpersonally, that it doesn't matter to me," he said, "I like to imagine a fellow in Iran wrote it and based on some circumstances, he was not able to leave the country. But I don't really care because it was such a wonderful ride to be a performer and an audience member at the same time and for everybody in the room not to know what's going to happen." 

St. Pierre wants people in Las Vegas to think of the five performances as a theatrical pub crawl. This is a discovery of a play over five weeks. The artistic directors of all five theatre companies - NCT, Majestic, Cockroach, The LAB, and Las Vegas Little Theatre - will be performing. Edwards said this was a suggestion made over drinks by one of the artistic directors. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that "if anyone is going to take the risk, it should be the leaders of the companies."

"White Rabbit, Red Rabbit" is being produced by The LAB Interdisciplinary, Experimental, Ensemble Theatre and performed at the following locations:

Go see one.

Go see many.

And a couple of pieces of advice: 1) Wear a hat. 2) Grab a bag of carrots on your way out. You might need them. Rabbits get hungry.

Kate St. Pierre, artistic director, The LAB Theatre; Chris Edwards, artistic director, the Nevada Conservatory Theatre

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