Chicago Reviews

“White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is serious silliness

Review by Karen Topham, American Theatre Critics Association member.

★★★

In Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit, we finally get the answer to the age-old question, “What happens when you hand an actor a script they have never seen before just as the curtain opens and say, ‘Go.’”

What? You’ve never heard that question before? Well, maybe not, but that is the premise behind Soleimanpour’s experimental work, now playing in an Interrobang Theatre Project presentation at the Den Theatre. And, whether or not you’ve ever wondered about that question, it is a play that is likely to entertain you and make you think.

Interrobang is putting on this unique show on Mondays at the Den, and each week (of course) has a different actor playing/reading the script. You’ll get a different experience each time, and that’s part of the fun. When I saw the play, JD Caudill was the star, and they were certainly engaging and full of energy. (No, they don’t get to sit or stand in one place and just read; the script calls for them to do all sorts of things, and Caudill attacked it with heart and soul.)

As a reviewer, I find myself at a loss as to what to write. To say just about anything at all about the script would be to ruin its fun and clever surprises, but I will say that there is audience participation. In fact, that is one of the things that keeps the play alive: the stage picture is constantly changing as audience members are added to the performance. The joy and playfulness of these people (almost all of whom are selected by the actor based entirely on where they are sitting) will, to a large degree, shape the performance. With Caudill in the center, tonight’s “volunteers” bit deeply into their given roles, the result being that everyone had a better time.

For their part, Caudill proved a wonderfully personable Master of Ceremonies. Playing themself and the author, as well as several smaller roles along the way, in a purely improvised bit of theatre, Caudill joked and played with the audience, occasionally ad-libbing something and tagging it with “I added that.” I’m told that last week’s performer, Stephanie Shum, stuck uniformly to the script with no ad-libbing, yet another way that this play can vary. An audience member asked me at the end of the show, “What’s the difference here between acting and reading?” and I suspect that this too might make a difference week to week: just how much acting does the performer do while reading the play?

White Rabbit Red Rabbit will be performed according to the following calendar:

Stephanie Shum (September 24)

JD Caudill (October 1)

Echaka Agba (October 8)

Michael Turrentine (October 15)

Joe Lino (October 22)

David Cerda (October 29)

Shawna Franks (November 5)

Owais Ahmed (November 12)

Once you’ve seen it, you just might be curious enough to see it again. You won’t be the only one: I met several people tonight who had also gone last week, and intended to go back again next Monday.

As to the play itself, I won’t spoil it by saying much of anything, but I will say that it will make you consider the limitations of free will: how much of what we do is really our choice? It’s a question Caudill had to consider as well as each audience member, and it is a Big Issue. For the most part, Soleimanpour’s script seems to be innocuous, silly fun…until it isn’t. It’s at that point that everyone in the theatre will realize just how serious the silliness has been.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit is now playing at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago until Nov 12 . Performance time is 8:00; check the website at Interrobang Theatre Project for tickets. Find more information about current plays on our Current Shows page and at theatreinchicago.com.

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