White Rabbit, Red Rabbit (Necessary Angel and Volcano Theatre Co) 2011 SummerWorks Review

At the heart of Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is a cry for help. Necessary Angel and Volcano Theatre have brought this ground-breaking show to Toronto as part of this year’s SummerWorks festival. It features a new, completely unrehearsed performance each night by a new actor. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t completely happy to walk into the drippingly hot Theatre Centre and discover that I would watch the phenomenal Eric Peterson play the role.

I had some reservations about this show. I had heard some people argue that these theatre companies are too well established to take a coveted SummerWorks spot from company struggling for recognition. I checked the festival’s mandate myself and realized it is meant to be a festival for professionals to take risks.

And this show is all about risk. On the stage is the actor on a chair with a table, a ladder and two glasses of water. Eric Peterson sat and looked at us as we walked in with complete interest and curiousity. He didn’t know how it would go either.

This is a play that is meant to be opened from a sealed envelope on stage and as an audience member, you and the actor discover their journey simultaneously. The audience becomes well involved in this piece – it isn’t a show that you just sit and idly watch. That is very much the point. As an audience member you have no choice but to get involved in this show – quite physically – as well as mentally.

We learn the writer is bound in Iran – he isn’t allowed to travel. These words are the only part of him that is allowed to leave Iran. The show feels like a scream frozen in time. Nassim has shouted out into the ether and we meet only his words. Throughout the show we are encouraged to find ways to bring the experience of the evening back to him. Through photos and notes, finding him on Facebook, a seat placed among us.

As I watched Eric Peterson, soaked in sweat, reading the words from the page, issuing commands and accepting the instruction given to him with careful deliberation, I reflected how this show is truly brilliant. It is the type of show that uses a device and, once used, you will likely never be able to witness it again. Ten years from now it will have been “done”. But for me, it had never been done and so I was utterly captivated by the experiement unfurling before me.

I left feeling that what this work was telling me was there are atrocities being committed. There are injustices before my eyes that I am privy to. I can help. Will I?

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit plays at The Theatre Centre, 1087 Queen Street West.

Tuesday August 9th 5:00 PM
Saturday August 13th 5:00 PM
Sunday August 14th 7:30 PM

-All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.artsboxoffice.ca, by phone at 416.504.7529, in person at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., One block North East of Bathurst & Queen W. M-F 12PM-7PM, Weekends 10AM-8PM) (Advance tickets are $15 +HST and $1 service fee)

– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows