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White Rabbit Red Rabbit
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

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Playwright: Nassim Soleimanpour

At: Interrobang Theatre Project @ The Den, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 312-219-4140;; $20-$25. Runs: Mondays only, through Nov. 12

Author Nassim Soleimanpour says there are 17 ways to kill yourself, not counting living out your life, which is the longest way to commit suicide. Think about it.

That may be the only concrete thought you carry away from White Rabbit Red Rabbit, a scripted but unrehearsed theatrical event running about 60 minutes, subject to 10-minute variations in either direction.

You see, there is no rehearsal or director or set ( well, a small table, a chair and a stepladder ). At each performance, a different actor receives the script in a sealed envelope and reads/performs it for the first/only time in front of the audience. The actor guides non-threatening audience participation, and at the end he/she drinks a glass of water which may or may not be poisoned. The actor may or may not die as the audience exits. FYI: Poison is one of the 17 suicide methods.

No one believes the poison bit for a second so there really isn't any tension in White Rabbit Red Rabbit, which is one reason it isn't really a play. It's a comic piece owing a great deal to mid-20th-century absurdist theater, especially from Iron Curtain countries where playwrights often used animal metaphors, or the tedious repetitions of office bureaucracies, as stand-ins for repressive government. Soleimanpour borrows from that playbook, although he avoids the office setting.

He does, however, offer odd tales of cheetahs pretending they are ostriches, and of bears, rabbits and crows, some in a circus and others ( the rabbits ) subjected to Pavlovian training by the author's uncle, shortly before the uncle committed suicide.

Soleimanpour, who happens to be Iranian, does this because he refused to conform to government-imposed conditions. As a result, he couldn't travel and probably was surveilled. Since 2015 he and his wife have lived in Berlin; but White Rabbit Red Rabbit was written in Iran in 2010, and the text was snuck out of the country for performances in the West. At one point the actor asks an audience volunteer to take notes on what is said and done, in case the police come around next day to question people.

Soleimanpour's actor ( agile and ingratiating Stephanie Shum at the first performance ) charms the audience into following various directions and then says, "What are your limits of obedience? You are the audience. ... You have a right to get up and leave." By implication, the actor does not have that right and, too obviously, neither did Soleimanpour as a semi-captive in his own country. Although White Rabbit Red Rabbit never is overtly political, it's up to us to make further connections.

Note: Hell in a Handbag co-founder and GLBTQ Hall of Famer David Cerda will perform Monday, Oct. 29.

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