The thin program for Nassim Soleimanpour's White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, at the Westside Theatre, includes a prominently placed advertisement for PEN International that features a photograph of Arthur Miller and a quote from him about the organization's signal importance for writers everywhere.
Anyone noticing the page before the performance and then paying attention to the welcome voiced by the fellows introducing the piece under their auspices (Devlin Elliott and Tom Kirdahy?) who reiterate PEN's involvement may well suspect that what follows is going to have the kind of resonance that the first few minutes don't appear to promise.
The set-up -- which sounds as if it's going to amount to no more than an hour or so of something not so much a play as a theater game -- depends on an actor who's never seen the script until it's handed to him carrying out all the previously undisclosed directions it contains.
The night I saw the opus, the guy who consented to go along with the tomfoolery was affable Patrick Wilson, an actor I always like, although I'd never before noticed how strongly he resembles Paul Newman. Being in his company for the light-into-dark nonce was a complete pleasure. (By the way, White Rabbit Red Rabbit is being presented on a series of Mondays, and some Mondays the clueless actor could be a guy or a gal.)
In the early sequences, Wilson wasn't alone on stage, since the script required patrons to join him and perform tasks such as pouring a small vial of supposed poison into one of two goblets sitting on a nearby table. During this particular action, audience members were asked to keep their eyes shut so that no one, certainly not Wilson, knew which was which.
Though the mention of poison might have occasioned an imaginary musical sting in some spectators' heads, the ambience generally remained jovial for a while when other tapped audience members played scenes requiring them to be an encountering rabbit and bear. Only slowly did the plot thicken when Wilson began reading about several white rabbits, one of which was painted red after climbing a ladder to grab a carrot. As the rabbit tale extended, however, playwright Soleimanpour turned it into a parable.
As an Iranian unable to leave his country and therefore able to relate to people around the globe only through his words, he's writing -- here's where PEN International comes in -- about man's inbred inhumanity to man. And that has him segueing to the two glasses, one of which the actor is ultimately asked to drink.
I suppose that in abiding by the producers' request that too much mustn't be said about the White Rabbit Red Rabbit details, I should only mention that many audience members seemed to be having a good time right up to the oddball conclusion.
On the other hand, I -- and perhaps others like me -- decided that Soleiman risks becoming annoyingly specious when he attempts to incriminate us all regarding our lack of concern about oppressed peoples when we're safe elsewhere.
Yes, the producers' request for review silence prohibits me from substantiating my claim, but there it is, all the same. Although playwright Soleimanpour gives out his email address during the proceedings in order to ask for feedback, I'll let this report stand as mine.
Andrew Schneider, hairy-chested and mercurial, is reprising his Obie-winning Youarenowhere (seen in the 2015 Coil Festival) at 3-Legged Dog, produced in tandem with The Tank. He looks to be having fun haranguing the audience and himself as he discourses on what at many junctures calls to mind Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.
That's only a reviewer's guess as to his intentions, however. The theory comes up not long after lights-up when the wide stage, over which a small black frame is suspended, is suddenly blindingly white and accompanied by jarring reverberations and then plunged into darkness. (The flashy effects backing Schneider's anxious discourse are apparently the combined efforts of Schneider working with Karl Franklin Allen, Alessandra Calabi, Daniel Jackson, Bobby McElver, Peter Mutant and Christine Shallenberg.)
Since Schneider remains at a high compulsive level throughout the 60-minute-plus piece, what he's actually intending to get across may be less important to him than the agitated state into which his message has plunged him. The scrunched-together title attests to that.
But if his observations are deliberately blurred, then it becomes incumbent on him to command consistent attention no matter where his digressions take him. Sorry to say, he runs out of steam a little too often. One of the sequences in which this occurs is a mirror-image happening when what has been an upstage wall drops and there's another Schneider -- the less hairy-chested Musante -- mimicking almost exactly everything Schneider is saying and doing.
(N.B.: I say Musante, because he's listed in the program as a performer, whereas others among the creators aren't. But since the producing/creating group prefers that reviewers not spill any important beans, the press agent isn't allowed to confirm suppositions. See above for a similar embargo.)
Yet another Youarenowhere request that immersive-resistant theatergoers might not enjoy is trading seats with the audience in the mirror-image. This does turn out to have a surprise twist as Schneider reaches his finale. That somewhat redeems the inconvenience but not enough for this immersed patron. Let's just say, Youarenowhere is relatively engaging.