Acting is all about challenges, but how about this one: doing a one-person show that you have no previous knowledge of, with no direction, without a set and receiving the script seconds before your first, and only, performance. And during the performance, the audience decides whether or not you will drink a glass of water that has supposedly been poisoned.
But this isn’t just a nightmare that plagues actors in their dreams, this is the actual scenario surrounding the play White Rabbit, Red Rabbit by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, who says his work reflects the manipulation of society in an Iranian version of Animal Farm. As he said to Public Radio International, “We are always part of this manipulation system. We want to sit and complain that we are not slaves, but meanwhile, we’d rather stay in the cage. That’s us. We have to accept it.” The actor performing the piece is required to act out the parts of all the animals.
Sadly, Soleimanpour has never seen the play performed even though it has been produced in Toronto, Berlin, San Francisco, Brisbane, Edinburgh, London, and Washington, DC because he is unable to leave Iran. Naturally, a production of the critical material would never be allowed in Iran. Therefore, Soleimanpour wrote the play “to travel the world when he couldn’t.”
One actor who has performed the play is Gwydion Suilebhan, who admits he was clueless about the material before performing it. He explains, “I did not know what was in front of me inside that envelope. What if this script is going to require that I disrobe? Or insult my mother? Or be rude or self-debasing?” Nonetheless, he retains a deep respect for Soleimanpour, especially since he is unable to see his work realized with his own eyes. Suilebhan explains, “Nassim has given up the kind of control that is customary for playwrights. At the same time, because he has put all of these restrictions on how it is to be performed, he has seized certain kinds of control that playwrights normally do not have. So he is literally embodying the ideas of control and submission and manipulation that he’s baked into his script”
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is currently being performed once a week at a select theater in the Washington, DC area. For more information on the play (though there is not much), check out Theater Alliance.