Hunter S Thompson, the iconic American journalist and author, once wrote a letter to a friend about the meaning of life. “The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal, which demands of us certain things: and we do these things,” he wrote in April 1958. Thompson was stating what we often hear today — to enjoy the journey and the ‘present’, rather than constantly looking for the results.
Perhaps it is this sense of journey that Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour evokes in his play White Rabbit Red Rabbit (WRRR). The 60-minute piece, written over a period of six years, and one that has been presented all over the world since 2011 (it is currently being held off-Broadway, New York), does not require a director, rehearsals and a set. All you need to do is convince an actor, who is a ‘natural storyteller’, and who has not read the script before, to come on the stage in front of a live audience. The actor is then handed the play, and he or she enacts it while reading it aloud for the first time.
Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s play, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, has been enacted across the world, and does not require a director or rehearsals.
Theatre director Quasar Thakore Padamsee, who brought the play to India under the banner of his theatre company QTP, hadn’t watched the drama until he hosted its first show in April, at the Writers’ Bloc festival. “The moment you take out the actors’ or the directors’ rehearsal time, you are allowing little room for interpretation. Therefore, the play is almost a conversation between the writer and the audience, but through the actor. I like to call it a love letter to the audience. I forgot I was watching a play. I got wrapped up in Nassim’s story,” says Padamsee, who has now planned a series of WRRR shows until September. The first show, featuring Richa Chadha (right) and Sohrab Ardeshir, opens on August 16, at Prithvi Theatre. Comedians Anu Menon and Anuvab Pal, among 26 other actors, will also enact the drama.
Padamsee excitedly describes the play as “unique”, calling Soleimanpour “a bit of a genius”. “Most people would feel the play is unique because actors are being handed the text in front of the audience. But that is the performance side of it. For the audience to actually witness the creation of this work, to have a communication directly with the writer, that is what the play has done,” he says.
Watch: Performance Highlights from White Rabbit Red Rabbit at NUS Arts Festival 2014
But he stresses that the drama does not deconstruct traditional theatre. “Nassim was worried about words like ‘deconstruct’, or this being called a political play. The play is not about Iran. It’s just a story, and whether it is an absurdist play or not is left to the audience. It is open to interpretation,” says Padamsee, adding that he plans to translate it into Marathi and Hindi.
Pushing the envelope
Soleimanpour wrote a versatile play that could travel without him because he was not allowed to leave Iran for several years. He refused to do the mandatory military service that all men in the country have to undertake when they turn 18. In 2012, though, Iranian authorities found he had an eye disorder, which meant Soleimanpour couldn’t join the military forces anyway. So, the playwright now lives in Germany, and receives numerous requests from theatre artistes to perform his play.
He, however, did have one purpose in writing WRRR. He wanted to break the boundaries of playwriting. “It’s a play to push the borders of the techniques of playwriting one or two steps further. That has been and will be my intention, as long as I write in theatre,” he tells us over email.
For someone like Chadha, the play is an opportunity to perform on the stage, given her hectic schedule as a film actor. “Why not [do such a play]? This makes the process easier, and I can do it between my projects and travelling. It’s going to be an instinctive performance,” she says.
Ardheshir, however, is looking at the show as a challenge. He came on board because he found the concept interesting. “But while I was enthusiastic before, I am terrified… or no, apprehensive, now,” the actor laughs, adding, “We’ve all done dramatic readings during rehearsals, but never with a live, paid audience in front of us. People are used to watching theatre in a particular way, and that is why this concept has an element of risk. So now, I will have to think on my feet. I could fall flat on my face. But I have to create in the moment. It will force me to be totally in the present. It can teach us how to think in the moment.”