Delving into the unknown with ‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’

| Editor-in-Chief

Theatrical performances usually come following intense rehearsals and weeks (or months) of preparation.

But Washington University’s experimental theater student group, Thyrsus, took its chances Friday, performing Nassim Soleimanpour’s “White Rabbit Red Rabbit”—a show for which the script remains hidden to all until the play starts on opening night.

“White Rabbit Red Rabbit” begins when its sole actor is handed a sealed manila envelope containing a freshly-printed script. Until that moment, no one has seen the play, from the actors to the producers.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 10.46.29 PMIllustration by Josh Zucker

Senior Liam Gibbs, a member of the Thyrsus executive board, was the one to initially propose Thyrsus perform the show. Gibbs had heard about the play in 2016, when “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” ran off-Broadway to rave reviews, drawing massive press attention. The performance featured a different actor in its singular role each night, with stars including Cynthia Nixon, Darren Criss and Nathan Lane taking the stage.

“I thought it was a super cool thing,” Gibbs said. “And I thought, ‘What if Thyrsus did that?’ And it was available for licensing.”

While Gibbs had heard of the show, audience members and the Thyrsus board alike were unsure exactly what would happen during the production, which starred junior Jordan Dubin as its sole actor. Much of the play is in Soleimanpour’s voice, with the actor used as a vessel for the playwright to speak with the audience.

Despite being unaware of the script beforehand, Dubin kept his energy levels high, bantering back and forth with the audience members, running around the stage and appearing, by all accounts, well-rehearsed.

But Dubin was not the only one to speak—the show features intensive audience participation, which begins with the audience counting itself off and continues with random members being dragged on stage throughout. While the level of audience participation was surprising to many show attendees, guests rose to the occasion, playing along as rabbits through multiple skits.

Soleimanpour, an award-winning Iranian playwright, wrote of his country’s immense censorship. The play is intended, in part, to function as a social experiment, addressing issues of complacency that arise when living under an authoritarian regime.

“I don’t think anyone knew to expect,” Gibbs said. “We knew there were themes of political oppression and violence.”

“It was much more meta and self-aware than I think we all realized it was going to be,” sophomore and Thyrsus board member Madison Lee added.

Along with being more reflective and intense than the board expected, the play also discussed suicide at great length—something of which the board members were unaware. When the producers asked the licensing agency if a content warning was necessary, they were told there was no need. But after watching the performance itself, the Thyrsus board members unanimously agreed that a content warning was in order.

Despite the lack of content warning, the Thrysus board felt the show went well—and praised Dubin’s performance.

Next up for Thrysus is its production of “The Bald Soprano,” an anti-play by Eugene Ionesco, which will run from April 20-22. “The Bald Soprano” is absurdist in nature and therefore sticks to Thrysus’ experimental bent. But unlike “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” this one will be well-rehearsed.