Ringling International Arts Festival review: White Rabbit Red Rabbit will mess with your mind

It's the first time for everyone.

click to enlarge The set for "White Rabbit Red Rabbit" at the Ringling's Circus Museum Backyard. - Larry Biddle
Larry Biddle
The set for "White Rabbit Red Rabbit" at the Ringling's Circus Museum Backyard.

I’m not going to tell you much about White Rabbit Red Rabbit, which I saw this afternoon at the Ringling International Arts Festival.

I will tell you that it’s the work of Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, and that when a theater company presents it, his stipulation is that no one involved read it beforehand. The theater receives an envelope containing the script, the actor opens the envelope for the first time as the performance begins, he or she reads it for the first time in front of the audience — and after the show is over, the same actor will never perform it again. If you see one of the three subsequent performances of White Rabbit Red Rabbit at RIAF, you will see three other actors, and if you attend one of the 10 performances after that at Sarasota’s Urbanite Theatre, 10 other actors. You could conceivably see it 13 more times in the next few weeks and never see the same show twice.

It’s a fiendishly interesting exercise. Actors are familiar with the experience of doing a “cold read’ — at an audition, usually, or in a class. But it’s pretty much unheard of to give a first reading of a script in front of paying customers. When the actor is as nimble as Urbanite’s Brendan Ragan, who read the script in today's performance, you know he’ll make a good go of it. But the wonderful (and awful) thing here was that he and the audience encountered the words for the first time together — and we got to feel his surprise (and horror) at what he was being asked to say at the same time that he did.

What does the script entail? I’ll give you one clue: Rabbits do play a big part in the action, and may appear from the audience. And you can probably guess the song that gets played at the end.

But other than that, suffice it to say that the whole experience will fuck with your mind, challenge what you think about acting, about playwriting, and play-watching, and make you question yourself, your fellow audience members, the nature of authority and the limits of obedience.

It’ll make you laugh. And worry. And think. A lot.

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