Toronto – It is rare that an audience leaves a theatre with concern for an actor’s safety. I think most people who left Theatre Centre Saturday night with that feeling also left feeling dazed and stunned by what they’d just seen. I certainly did.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a play written by Iranian Nassim Soleimanpour. It’s a sort of monologue from the writer to the audience, and a way for Soleimanpour, according to his writing, can feel free, as his writing travels the world in a way that he can’t, as he’s unable to get a passport. Soleimanpour also addresses a fair bit of his monologue to the actor reading it; in this production, the actor performs the play cold, actually receiving it on stage in a sealed envelope, and is different each night. For this performance we had the pleasure of having Eric Peterson on stage, an accomplished stage actor who’s probably best known for playing Brent Butt’s dad Oscar on Corner Gas.
Whether or not the play would be as good performed by someone else, I couldn’t say. Peterson has the kind of pacing and timing you can only gain with experience, and is remarkably steady even when the script calls for a vial of what may or may not be poison to be poured into one of two cups of water, with the intention that later in the show he will drink one of them. He shows off his talent for comedy often, at one point playing his interpretation of a “cheetah impersonating an ostrich” to great audience delight and delivering some of the funniest lines in the play in a perfect deadpan.
As for the play itself, well, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. Soleimanpour’s metaphor for oppression, his uncle’s “rabbit training” where the rabbit who is the first to figure out how to climb a ladder to get to a carrot is painted red and eventually ends up getting torn apart by the other white rabbits for standing out, is chilling.
Soleimanpour shows a sense of humour, while at the same time making a point about how, even writing as he is from Iran a couple of years ago, he can still manipulate a room full of people when they’re willing to let him. The audience participation roles are quite apropos and not too embarassing (I got picked to be in one of them, too), and one audience member practically jumped onto the stage to read the last few pages of the script, as Soleimanpour’s direction demanded. Later on, when I lined up with a group to shake Peterson’s hand and make sure he was ok, that audience member was telling Peterson that he’s Iranian himself. Apropos indeed.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is some of the most powerful, captivating theatre I’ve seen in years.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.