White Rabbit, Red Rabbit takes significant lengths to ensure that all of its content is, almost frighteningly, unknown. Usually, when you see a play, you have a general idea of what it is about. Maybe you looked it up, maybe you heard about it through the grapevine, maybe your friend told you about it while trying to convince you to come, but you always have some general idea. Then again, for most plays, keeping that secret would be impossible. Between the cast, the crew, and the internet, you will never walk into a play wanting to know what happens, and having no idea besides the assurance that it will be interesting, and a warning about mature content.
That was not the case with White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. When the sole actor in the show, Kaylee Pomelow ’19, stepped onstage in Strider Theater last Friday night, no one—including her—had any idea of what was about to take place. The producers are given only a few random instructions before the play begins, and the audience is asked not to reveal what they have learned to the world after the show. Even the actor knows nothing before opening the sealed envelope containing the script in front of the audience at the start of the play, and the performance is their first and only reading. The actor is told only to learn the pronunciation of the author’s name, to bring a bottle of water onstage, and to not drink the two glasses of water. And, one would think unnecessarily, they are told that they must finish the play, no matter what. No actor ever performs this play twice, so that every show is an unknown to the entire room.
This uncertainty is a calculated principle that is used to staggering effect during the play—although I doubt I am allowed to tell you how. What I can say is that White Rabbit, Red Rabbit was written by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour to explore themes of conformity, trust, censure, and liability, among others that, if known, might spoil some startling and intense moments. Soleimanpour is, he explains to the audience, unable to travel outside of Iran due to his refusal to complete his years of mandatory military service in protest. Instead, he claims to be at each show with the audience and the actor as a part of the script, and he interacts intimately with the audience as his own person through the actor’s words. The audience, too, is encouraged to interact with him through audience participation onstage and emailing him photos and notes taken during the show. While this might seem gimmicky out of context, the effect of this is to ground the audience and actor in reality to an intensity rarely found in theater, forcing the audience to confront their own role, responsibilities, and boundaries as the show progresses. It is this element that, I believe, leads Soleimanpour to define it not just as a play, but as an experiment.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit has been performed around the globe, including a running off-Broadway show that featured a new famous actor each night. The single role has notably been played by such stars as Nathan Lane, George Takei, Joyce DiDonato, Alan Cumming, and Whoopi Goldberg, and the play was a Critic’s Pick of the New York Times, among other awards and rave reviews. Our performer at Colby was Kaylee Pomelow ’19, who tackled the role with unwavering confidence and charm, despite the substantial curveballs that the script threw at her. With a thought-provoking premise and groundbreaking implementation, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit leaves a lasting impression on an audience and has the benefit of being different every performance.