ON STAGE

Vi­enna’s Open House The­atre per­forms the ex­per­i­men­tal White Rab­bit Red Rab­bit

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - CONTENTS - By Ger­hard Posch

In­trigu­ing and ex­per­i­men­tal, Open House The­atre puts on Nas­sim Soleiman­pour’s poignant White Rab­bit Red Rab­bit.

Nas­sim Soleiman­pour has trav­eled the world with­out leav­ing his na­tive Iran. Vi­enna’s Spek­takel the­ater re­served a first row seat for the play­wright, but it was empty dur­ing the per­for­mance of his maiden ex­per­i­men­tal play, White Rab­bit Red Rab­bit. Yet Soleiman­pour was there.

To solve this rid­dle, it helps to know that dur­ing the first two years of the play’s world­wide per­for­mances, Soleiman­pour was re­stricted from trav­el­ing as pun­ish­ment for re­fus­ing to serve in Iran’s mil­i­tary. So he sent his words, the script of White Rab­bit Red Rab­bit, in­stead. He be­came a char­ac­ter, with the play speak­ing on his be­half. And puff! With­out smoke or mir­rors, he’s here.

EX­PER­I­MENTS IN RE­AL­ITY

De­void of Mid­dle Eastern clichés, the play ad­dresses themes of obe­di­ence, cen­sor­ship and con­form­ity in a semi­comic and some­times tragic way.

Pro­foundly ex­per­i­men­tal, White Rab­bit Red Rab­bit stretches the very def­i­ni­tions of the­ater and nar­ra­tion: With no re­hearsals, no di­rec­tor and a new ac­tor each night, the sealed script is only opened once the per­former is on stage and in front of the live au­di­ence. This cre­ates in­stant sus­pense, and the ten­sion dur­ing Clau­dia Kot­tal’s show at the Spek­takel on Novem­ber 7 was pal­pa­ble. But read­ing a script for the first time also makes bring­ing the words to life nearly im­pos­si­ble.

“There’s no way to pre­pare,” Kot­tal said. “Just be open for ev­ery­thing on stage. With all the skills I have as an ac­tress – voice, body, emo­tion – that I can give to cre­ate a good read­ing.” Kot­tal re­mained calm and steady, and she raced through Soleiman­pour’s play in 53 min­utes. She fo­cused on recit­ing in a clear and au­di­ble man­ner, which forced her to stand at the very edge of the stage, hold­ing the pages be­tween her and the au­di­ence.

The set is sparse, too: a ta­ble and a chair, two glasses of wa­ter and a lad­der. Low pro­duc­tion cost is an ad­van­tage for the small Open House The­atre com­pany, but ac­tor and artis­tic di­rec­tor Alan Bur­gon, who had his turn on Novem­ber 14, em­pha­sized that it was the play’s unique style that com­pelled him and his pro­duc­tion part­ners.

“[Found­ing mem­ber] Ju­lia C. Thorne was blown away by a per­for­mance she saw,” Bur­gon said. “We love to try out dif­fer­ent styles of show … we just had to go for it.”

TEAR DOWN THIS FOURTH WALL

Act­ing in the tra­di­tional sense falls to the way­side with Soleiman­pour’s play. Non­con­formist, wildly en­ter­tain­ing and oc­ca­sion­ally ab­surd, White Rab­bit Red Rab­bit places it­self firmly in the an­ti­au­thor­i­tar­ian tra­di­tion of Beck­ett, Ionesco or Havel. Soleiman­pour has of­ten down­played the play’s po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions, yet al­most all of its al­le­gories point to Iran’s lack of fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights, such as free­dom of speech or travel, which Western­ers today take for granted.

And de­spite less­than­ideal con­di­tions for ac­tors, White Rab­bit Red Rab­bit tri­umphs through its bla­tant dis­re­gard for the fourth di­men­sion, re­quir­ing al­most in­ces­sant au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion dur­ing and af­ter the show.

See­ing it makes you want to read up on Iran and its regime, start your own ac­tivism group or in­tern at the OSCE. In a 21st cen­tury world of ex­per­i­men­tal sto­ry­telling, re­al­ity is as tragic and ab­surd as ever – and Soleiman­pour wants you to face it. Now.

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