Two glasses of water sit on a table. One glass is pure, the other poisoned. Richard Keitel reads Nassim Soleimanpour’s words for the first time with revelation, by the end of this performance he will have to drink one of the glasses. 12 Peers Theater’s production of White Rabbit Red Rabbit walks a tenuous line of gimmick and astoundingly provocative experimental theater. The water glasses ripple with tight tension on the table, reveling in possibility, underscore the show which is an astonishing feat.
Each show of White Rabbit Red Rabbit is a completely different experience. For its 18 show run, one actor will take to the stage performing a script they have never seen and are given for the first time as the show begins. Richard Keitel opened the white envelope on April 8th. Soleimanpour uses the actor to escape the bonds of time and space that restrict him. During the time he is writing the play, he is living in Iran, where the arts are strictly observed and censored, but White Rabbit Red Rabbit gives him freedom. Now, he is present in the Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theater. The presence of the writer is essential in all theatrical works, but Soleimanpour forces the audience to address how much power the writer truly has. The audience becomes just as active as the actor in the show, but dynamically as passive. Through his words, Soleimanpour begins a sort of mind control, the actor conforming to his every demand along with the audience. This control becomes a commentary on the conformity that exists in Iran. The actor has the power to stray from the script, the audience to leave the theater, but there is such an inescapable gravity to the piece, something I’ve never felt before in a show, that everyone felt.
It’s a hard task to describe the show without giving out spoilers, because the experience is what is so impactful. I’ve never been faced with such a sense of possibility, of questioning, of fear, of wonder quite like White Rabbit Red Rabbit showed me. It is layered with metaphor and personal testimony. Sometimes it begins to lean towards the pretentious, but when filtered through Keitel’s grounded and equally curious voice, every word hits the ear and the mind.
12 Peers is taking such a risk with White Rabbit Red Rabbit, so much relies on the actor, not only to be a catalyst for Soleimanpour’s words, but also to add excitement and fill the seats. However, it goes without noticing that some diversity in their line-up of 18 actors is lacking. Beyond the performance I witnessed, diversity would increase the force of Nassim Soleimanpour’s words by potentially showing he has the ability to transcend things like race and gender to create his own presence.
Two glasses of water sit on the table. One is full. The other is empty. The contents of the empty glass are now inside Richard Keitel. But what of the contents of the glass still full- pure or poison? I urge you to see 12 Peer Theater’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit at Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theater, it will leave you unsettled and full of awe.
Special thanks to 12 Peers Theater for complimentary press tickets. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit runs at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater through April 24th. For tickets and more information, check out their website here.