It’s hard to write about a play so secret that even the actors haven’t seen the script until the lights go up on stage, but we thought we’d give it a try, because Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit is worth the challenge. Censored and unable to leave his native country, Soleimanpour managed to send the script of his one-actor play out into the free world beyond Iran’s borders, where it’s graced numerous international stages since 2011, including a nine-month run last year in New York at the Westside Theatre. There it was performed nightly by a revolving cast of stage celebrities, from Nathan Lane to Whoopi Goldberg. The rules of the show dictate that each actor can only perform White Rabbit Red Rabbit once, setting the stage — which can include only the barest minimum of props — for a rich set of interpretations.
Now it’s coming to Denver, courtesy of Denver’s Pipedream Productions, a young troupe of recent University of Denver graduates who serendipitously inquired into the rights for White Rabbit Red Rabbit after hearing about it through the grapevine. Two days later, “we got an email saying the rights were available, and before we knew it, we were building up our marketing and website to do the project," says Pipedream spokesman Trevor Fulton.
Choosing the performers fulfilled a pipe dream of their own. Taking a cue from the New York shows, they invited a high-profile group of actors to step up for the series of one-night stands in Denver. “That was the fun part,” Fulton notes. “We’re a startup with dreams of working with big names around town, and this gave us that chance,” he says, adding that minus rehearsals and normal production costs, their low overhead gave them more freedom in selecting from the best of the Front Range. “Through connections we’ve made as students, we spread out and spent the first couple of weeks asking people to perform. We are so honored by their participation. We even had to turn some actors away.”
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Even Fulton has no idea what audiences can expect, though some people at Pipedream might have a hunch — only a select two members know some of the secrets necessary to mounting the play. “It’s written in [Soleimanpour’s] words, but it’s not exactly his own story, and the actors experience it for the first time, just as the audience does.” And as an audience member, you’ll be able to participate in White Rabbit Red Rabbit’s nightly unveilings. “This is probably the only play that asks the audience to leave their cell phones on,” Fulton explains. “They are asked to take and send pictures and reviews directly to the playwright. Also, by contract, we have to have a seat reserved for the playwright at every show.”
The play also feeds into Pipedream’s philanthropic reason-to-be: The ensemble partners with different local and national nonprofits for every production, donating a 10 percent portion of the profits to their chosen cause. For White Rabbit Red Rabbit, they are working with three charities — the Colorado Humane Society, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and PEN Center USA, in the interest of serving animal rights, immigrant populations and freedom of speech — and leaving each night’s recipient up to the performers.
This is by no means a gimmick. It’s a statement. It’s an experiment. White Rabbit Red Rabbit comes out of its shell each night with a different actor reading the lone role to show that inner life continues unscathed in the midst of artistic isolationism. You might say that Soleimanpour has the last laugh in his room in Iran, despite being shackled by his own culture.
Ready to go down the rabbit hole with Pipedream? White Rabbit Red Rabbit opens Friday, August 11, at 7:30 p.m. in the JMAC Studios Black Box theater at the Newman Center, 1903 East Iliff Avenue on the DU campus, for 21 performances on selected dates through September 11. Participating actors include Emma Messenger, Adrian Egolf, Luke Sorge, Meridith Grundei, Andrew and Kelly Uhlenhopp, John Hauser, Mare Trevathan, and Susannah and Chloe McLeod, to name a few. Purchase tickets, $13 to $15, see the complete schedule and find out when your favorites are performing on the Pipedream website.