The setup is simple: one actor, a barebones stage, and an unseen script that isn’t removed from its envelope until the intrepid performer walks under the lights. But while White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, a play-meets-social-experiment that makes its Pittsburgh debut at 12 Peers Theater, might sound like a straightforward production, the material is anything but facile.
The play’s audiences make something of a tacit agreement: Like Fight Club, you don’t talk about White Rabbit, Red Rabbit — or at least you don’t give away too many specifics. So, without spoiling the existential fun, the show explores the complexities of human nature and our “need to be heard.”
The playwright, Iran’s Nassim Soleimanpour, wrote the play while confined to his homeland: He had refused to perform Iran’s obligatory two-year military service, and was denied a passport for most of his adult life. However, during his confinement, Soleimanpour became fascinated with the Mobius-strip nature of plays — how they’re written specifically to be performed at a later date, thereby allowing the past to influence the future and vice versa.
To Soleimanpour, this means we’re all connected, even if time and distance never permit us to meet. (Since the play debuted, in 2011, Soleimanpour has been granted a medical exemption from the military; he’s subsequently traveled the world and even seen his play performed).
White Rabbit maximizes Soleimanpour’s themes by featuring a different actor each night — on April 8, it was a pitch-perfect Richard Keitel, with upcoming performances from such local luminaries as Richard Rauh, Diana Ifft and Alan Stanford. Although the show requires no director, talents at 12 Peers Theater — including artistic director Vince Ventura, stage manager Sara Fisher and lighting designer Alex Stevens — leave their marks with skillfully simple and effective production design.
As the title implies, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit employs allegorical animals, and the stream-of-consciousness narrative shifts from slapstick routines to lists of how to commit suicide. But at its core, the play is about loneliness as well as our capacity to learn from one another. In an increasingly global yet paradoxically isolated world, these are themes that can resonate with all of us.