Over the course of the show, a cold read of a script developed into something memorable.
Going in to see “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” I knew next to nothing about the play. In fact, most of the audience didn’t.
That’s the premise of the show. Both the audience and the actor go into the performance blind. The actor doesn’t see the script until they open it right in front of you. This means an actor only gets one shot at playing this role of a lifetime.
To not spoil the effect, I won’t give you the plot. To have the full experience, you need to enter the show blind. However, I will say how this works in your favor.
I was skeptical going in that it was going to be one big gimmick. Was the actor truly going with no information? Am I going to be stuck in a show with a subject that I find no interest in?
The first part of the play was whimsical. I won’t spoil any details, but I felt like it could have been children’s theatre. Audience participation kept the subject matter relevant. Seeing random adult participants go on the stage and bring their own perspectives to roles was refreshing. They often broke character, but I believe the writer, Nassim Soleimanpour, anticipated and would in fact have welcomed the idea. The improvisations helped bring his ideas to life and might have brought more laughter than the script itself. It brought humanity to a script that does not have characters in the traditional sense. I’m lucky to have had such an enthusiastic audience. They were at least half the show.
About a third of the way through the script, the play takes a dark, unexpected turn. The actor’s surprise seemed genuine at this point. He even took some liberties of going off script with saying “fuck this” numerous times during the darker bits. It yo-yoed back and forth between the darker portions and the funnier ones after this point
Not only did the play take a darker turn, but it turned political. In the play program, there was an “urgent” note telling media and press agents that the play “is NOT overtly political, and should not be portrayed as such. It operates on a deeper, metaphoric level, and very expressly avoids overt political comment. We therefore ask the press to be judicious in their reportage.”
Asking a reporter to not report something is one of the surest ways to ensure they do just that. I believe this was the play’s (or TU’s) cheeky way of trying to get the audience to ensure they did focus on the political side of things by using reverse psychology. This strategy did play off a little gimmicky to me; let the play speak for itself. Then again, here I am writing about it, just as they anticipated.
Somehow, though, the odd combination of depressing and whimsical, of scripted and improvisational, worked together perfectly. Without the whimsy, the darker parts would have been less impactful. Without the original script, the impromptu responses wouldn’t have shined.
I can’t finish my review without acknowledging the actor. I could not see many actors pulling this show off quite as well as Friday night’s actor, David Blakely. This 58-year-old actor’s cold reading was near flawless. I don’t believe I saw a single line he tripped up on, or if he did, he did not show it. He brought the script to life with his characterizations, and his own commentary sprinkled in about how messed-up a part of the script was and his comedic responses to the audience’s participation.
I’m left wishing Blakely could somehow inject a serum into his brain to forget the whole night so more audiences could experience what I found to be a near-perfect performance. If I could find one thing to fault the performance, I think that it might be a bit of a one-trick-pony. Without going into the play blind, I don’t believe that the night would have been as special. I would see all the tricks and sparkles before they came. The surprise factor is what holds together the performance, particularly the ending. For about half the show the ending is suggested, but it isn’t until the end that you get the full implications of what could happen before your very eyes.
Although this play may never happen at TU again, I would highly recommend going to see it if you are given the chance. The one caveat? Do not read any spoilers, no matter how tempting.