Red, White and You

Red, White and You

As my husband and I walked down Orange Street to the black box theater inside EBM Vintage (map), where the New Haven Theater Company production of White Rabbit Red Rabbit was about to begin, we approached a trim, fiftysomething man at a parking meter. He caught my eye, and we smiled, lips closed, as strangers smile at one another on the street. He followed us all the way to EBM, past the A-frame sign on the sidewalk and through the front doors, where he was embraced by two women who seemed thrilled to see him. “You decided to come!” one of them teased.

“Are you the actor?” I asked. He affirmed that he was, then added that maybe I was the actor, too. He had no idea, since he hadn’t read the script yet. The entire incident made me wonder if an absurd play had already begun.

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We wandered the riches of EBM—vintage clothing and cookware and sewing accoutrements—with glasses of wine in hand for 10 minutes or so before the show began. The actor, Marty Tucker, still hadn’t read the script. We know this because we saw him remove it from a sealed manila envelope onstage a few minutes later. Almost all we knew—any of us, including Tucker—when the show began was what we saw onstage: a small round table holding two glasses of water and a spoon, beside it one chair, and across the stage a tall step ladder.

Tucker was right about one thing: I was an “actor,” too—along with the rest of the audience of 19 souls, which is about the perfect number for White Rabbit Red Rabbit, an experimental, meta play by the Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. If you’re put off by the words “experimental” and “meta,” don’t be. As my husband noted after the show, it’s not experimental for the sake of being experimental. It’s experimental in order to enable the audience to ponder big questions about obedience, trust, groupthink, oppression, personal agency, punishment and suicide, to name a few.

Written in 2010, White Rabbit Red Rabbit has journeyed the world even as Soleimanpour can’t. He tells us, through his actor, that he does not have a passport because he refused to earn one by performing military service in Iran as a young man. An empty seat in the front row is reserved for him—an empty physical space in proximity to the borrowed voice of the actor. The play is Soleimanpour’s first written in English, and it’s clearly for an English-speaking audience, one that may need help understanding the psychology and the circumstances of an existence unlike their own. It does so in myriad ways, engaging them in playful exercises and thought experiments without ever losing track of its premise or its moral center.

Tucker made excellent work of his blind reading. By the end, his eye glasses were on the table and the water glasses were not. His bare face and his posture seemed vulnerable, and it didn’t take me out of the play’s action to consider the bravery required to play this role. He’s had his turn now. Every night of its short New Haven run, which continues this Thursday and finishes Saturday, a different member of the company will perform White Rabbit Red Rabbit sight unseen.

That’s one of the few pieces of information audiences are given before taking their seats. I hesitate to give you any more; I’ve already said nearly too much. There are white rabbits and red rabbits and two glasses of water. Go and see for yourself.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit
presented by the New Haven Theater Company
EBM Vintage – 839 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Showtimes this week: Thurs 7:30pm, Fri-Sat 8pm

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image, featuring members of the rotating cast—Deena Nicol-Blifford, George Kulp, Marty Tucker, Jenny Schuck, Steve Scarpa and Trevor Williams—provided courtesy of the New Haven Theater Company.

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