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‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’ brings unique theater experience to Boston audiences

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’ brings unique theater experience to Boston audiences
PHOTO: COURTESY ARTSEMERSON

Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” will briefly touch down in Boston Dec. 7-12 for six virtual performances, each a completely unique theater experience. Every show is executed by a new actor who comes to the script fresh, performs it for the first time for a live virtual audience and then gives his or her interpretation of Soleimanpour’s words.

Soleimanpour wrote “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” in 2010. He was forbidden to leave Iran because he refused to participate in military service. The play is a way to cross borders with words and connect with the larger world.

During the COVID-19 shutdowns, Soleimanpour recognized a yearning for human connection and global experience similar to what he had felt. “’Rabbit’ is a tough play,” says Soleimanpour. “I say tough because the original play was written under certain circumstances, and it was written to overcome my travel restrictions. So it was natural for this particular play to be adapted during the lockdowns.”

Contrary to most theater productions, which require extensive rehearsals, staff, and intense work between the director and the actors, “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” intentionally utilizes no preparation. The actor has not read the script in advance and there is no director providing context or instruction. The actor is coming to the work as new to it as the audience members. Soleimanpour did this due to a desire to hear new voices. “I’m interested in freshness,” he says.

With no time to craft a performance, the actors bring their most authentic voices to the script. At the same time, not providing the actor/director/artistic team time to put their own spin on the piece leaves the words and intention completely in the hands of the playwright.

For actors who are used to a more standard performance structure, “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is a chance to jump out of their comfort zones. For audience members, it’s a rare opportunity to see a completely unique experience. No two performances are the same. That sense of not knowing what might come next has proved to resonate with audiences. Since its stage debut in 2011, the play has been translated into 25 different languages and performed more than 2,000 times, including by prominent actors like John Hurt, Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane, Stephen Rea, Sinead Cusack and others.

“This work is utterly original, and it’s a piece about contemporary Iran and Nassim’s generation,” says David Howse, executive director at ArtsEmerson. “We can assure our audiences they won’t ever see something quite like this.”