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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 4 years ago

'White Rabbit Red Rabbit' continues its Sarasota run

The piece was well-received at Ringling International Arts Festival, and now it continues at Urbanite — but it’s not the same play.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

After an initial run at the 2017 Ringling International Arts Festival, Nassim Soleimanpour’s “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” hopped over to Urbanite Theatre for 10 more productions. I was curious to see how this experimental, one-person play unfolded on a second trial. So I checked it out.

Brendan Ragan starred in RIAF’s first night production. Mari Vial-Golden helmed the role in the Urbanite’s initial reprise. Without getting deeply deep, here’s a quick comparison-and-contrast:

Where Ragan created a sense of menace, Vial-Golden played around. He was helpless in the grip of a mad Iranian playwright. She was free as a bird—and riffed and teased the audience with comedy club abandon. Fear on the one hand; fun on the other. Analysis?

Based on these wildly divergent performances, here’s what Soleimanpour’s experiment proved:

One script + two different actors + different audiences = two wildly divergent shows.

No surprise there. Or is there?

On further reflection, the difference in acting methods was more than stylistic. Vial-Golden did what she must to make it work. She didn’t have much of a choice.

Soleimanpour wired his play for randomness. For starters, he stipulated that a fresh actor do a cold reading each time. Each run of the show has no director, rehearsal or knowledge of the script. Beyond that, he punctuated the show with audience participation. Based on seat numbers, various theatergoers get called on stage. That’s definitely a toss of the dice. And it’s asking for trouble from a storytelling perspective.

The gurus of screenwriting and playwriting offer standard advice: Put something at stake. Then raise the stakes!

Without spoiling the surprise, let’s just say that Soleimanpour establishes life-or-death stakes from the get-go. The threat might be fictional and it might be fact. Who knows? The audience isn’t supposed to know.

But they did during this run because an audience participant at Vial-Golden’s performance gave the game away. Spoiled the surprise! Unplugged the tension! Revealed the rabbit inside the hat!

In other words, the Urbanite audience knew there’d be no body count — at least during this particular show. That knowledge changed everything.

So, Vial-Golden rolled with the punches. She went with it and delivered a lighthearted, comedy club performance. What else could she do?

Soleimanpour clearly knew this kind of thing would happen. I’m still wracking my brain as to why he wanted it to happen. His play is a weird mix of improv games and over-controlling specificity. He’s a puppet master who shows his strings, then cuts them. So … why? Maybe that’s the point? The deliberate rejection of control?

I’m just guessing here. My mental jury’s still out.

But if you’re up for a wild ride, follow the rabbit and check out this show.

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