If the phrase “experimental theater” had a picture in the dictionary, it would look a lot like White Rabbit Red Rabbit. American Stage is producing the 70-minute solo show Nov. 2-19 – 15 different performances, with 15 different actors, at six venues (five of which are in St. Petersburg).
Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit debuted in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2011. “An absurdist adventure which sits on the boundary of comedy and drama” is how the Guardian newspaper described it, although “absurd” is a good descriptor for the actual mechanics of producing it: The show’s single performer does not see the script until the curtain rises – therefore, there’s no preparation, no rehearsal – and no director, or set, or costume.
Still, it’s considered something of a badge of honor for actors to tackle. The 2016 Off-Broadway run drew thespians like F. Murray Abraham, Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane, St. Petersburg native Patrick Wilson, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kathy Najimy, Cynthia Nixon, Darren Criss, Brian Dennehy, Billy Porter and Wayne Brady. And the script has been translated into more than 20 languages.
The company’s “Beyond the Stage” series, explains Associate Producing Director Ashley White, “is part of our mission to bring theater to the community and make it more accessible. The traditional theater model is shifting, and experimenting with programming and location is how we, as a 46-year-old institution, continue to innovate.”
Born in Tehran, Soleimanpour declined his country’s compulsory military service and so was not permitted to leave Iran until 2014, several years after the debut of White Rabbit. He currently lives in Berlin.
The playwright told Playbill: “I was a young playwright writing at home who thought, ‘I have a message,’ and so I put it in a bottle and gave it to the ocean.”
The restrictive nature of life in contemporary Iran imbues his script with drama and pathos; reviewers are asked in advance not to give away the narrative, because the element of surprise, Soleimanpour says, is part of the experience.
Or, as Houstonia magazine declared: “This uncertainty of both actor and audience seeps into Rabbit’s every word, heightening the metaphorical, animal-filled tales and its swings in tone as playwright Nassim Soleimanpour guides his unassuming audience on a journey of mortality, conformity, and complicity.”
Nov. 2, 7 p.m.: Dylan Barlowe at Savant on Second.
Nov. 3, 7 p.m.: Gavin Hawk at Savant on Second.
Nov. 4, 2 p.m.: Mona Lim at USF Tampa Theatre Centre.
Nov. 4, 7 p.m.: David M. Jenkins at USF Tampa Theatre Centre.
Nov. 5, 2 p.m.: Anthony Gervais at USF Tampa Theatre Centre.
Nov. 9, 7 p.m.: Georgia Mallory Guy at Historic Bethel AME.
Nov. 10, 7 p.m.: Fanni Green at Historic Bethel AME.
Nov. 11, 2 p.m.: Ivy Sunflower at The Factory St. Pete.
Nov. 11, 7 p.m.: Tito Mercado at The Factory St. Pete.
Nov. 12, 2 p.m.: John Millsap at The Factory St. Pete.
Nov. 16, 7 p.m.: Elizabeth Gelman at the Arts Xchange.
Nov. 17, 7 p.m. Lance Markeith at the Arts Xchange.
Nov. 18, 2 p.m.: Gabriel Ortiz at the Carter G. Woodson Museum.
Nov. 18, 7 p.m.: Andrida Hosey at the Carter G. Woodson Museum.
Nov. 19, 2 p.m.: Travis Ray at the Carter G. Woodson Museum.
“Whenever teams work to curate these performers, it really is a who’s who of the performing arts scene,” White says. “These are a mix of veterans, up-and-comers, improv geniuses and brave souls who signed up, not knowing what they were getting into.
“As someone who is new to Tampa Bay, this has been the best introduction of actors and artisans that I can call on as American Stage goes forward.”
Find tickets for all performances here.