Dallas — White Rabbit Red Rabbit, by Nassim Soleimanpour, begins with a set of ground rules issued by the playwright and invoked by Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty in the program and reiterated in a brief introduction.
There is a different actor every performance, a minimal set, a couple of props, and no director. The actor sees the script for the first time when presented with it in front of the audience right before the show begins. The actor only performs it once. This means there were no rehearsals, no preview performances.
Furthermore, no actor who has seen the play or read the script can later perform the show in public. Because the play has been performed twice in North Texas—by Southern Methodist University students at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in 2013 and Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage Productions in 2017—several popular local actors, including Christie Vela, Brandon Potter and Blake Hackler, can’t do it again at DTC. Or anywhere.
So, what are we folks in the audience to make of these rules?
At least for me, the set-up invoked a sense of conspiracy, not only with the brave actor, but with the disembodied playwright who designed the show’s sly premise. As Moriarty says, in his notes and in his pre-performance talk, “We are all in it together.” Like life, we’re all equally ignorant of the future and nobody really knows what’s going to shake out in the next hour.
The show, we’ve been told, has been performed internationally in many languages, and that Iranian national Soleimanpour wrote the play eight years ago to travel the world when he couldn’t. He now lives in Berlin with his wife and dog. Other than that, none of us has a clue what this actor is about to say or do.
The Dallas Theater Center production, performed at the intimate, steeply raked Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre Sixth Floor Studio Theatre, includes 40 of the city’s best actors, including most members of DTC’s Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company. Whatever else happens, at least we’re assured there’s a pro onstage to lead us out of the rabbit hole—once we take the plunge together.
Liz Mikel, a popular DTC company member and local cabaret singer, was the actor I saw on opening night. Talk about a pro. Script in hand, she took in the surprises with us, seeming as stunned and unprepared at moments as the rest of us. But then she smiled reassuringly, as she blurred the line between her role and ours. In fact, the deeper we go into the moment in this event, the more we think about the many roles we play—and the voices we assume on different occasions.
Mikel is simultaneously familiar and alluring in her assumed persona. You must willingly suspend disbelief for any play to work, and she makes it easy. We hear the playwright’s voice issuing from this disarming, totally trustworthy woman, who clearly knows when to be silly and when to be serious. We’re curious and willing to consider the questions that arise during our brief encounter. Are we passively doing her bidding? Are we mindlessly nodding agreement with the narrator because of the dulcet voice delivering the message? I’m in.
Fascinating to imagine the effect the playwright’s words might have had if delivered in a different persona, by an actor with a more menacing cut, or surrounded by different people in another city, perhaps a town in a northern clime on a freezing winter’s night!
A final rule of staging White Rabbit Red Rabbit is asking that the audience know nothing about the story, and that we honor our initiation by keeping mum about all that, and not spoiling it for others. We are, however, encouraged to spread the word via social media about the fun of such a theater experience, in an era where sorting “fake news” from real news is a daily conundrum we all face.
Just go to WRRR and play a revealing round of radical absurdist theater for yourself. Who knows what you’ll score?
» There is no schedule of performers during the DTC run. Each performer will be announced the night before via the theater’s social media. As of press time, we know that the performer tonight (Saturday, June 2), is Julie Johnson.
» TheaterJones will have reports on several performers during the DTC run.