Are you a White Rabbit or a Red one? Let this Iranian play tell you
What's the worst that could happen to your production if you're a playwright? Lots. The things that could go wrong, let me count the ways... but not having your actor/s read the script till about thirty seconds before the play starts? Having a different actor perform it every time? Not being present at ANY of the screenings of your own play? These are nightmare scenarios for any theatre director. Well, almost.
Nassim Soleimanpour, however, chooses to veer away from what most directors would consider obvious. In fact, these are scenarios that are a prerequisite for his avant-garde, genre bending play White Rabbit Red Rabbit.
The play, which was recently staged at Delhi's India Habitat Centre, has travelled across the world since its debut at Edinburgh in 2011, been translated into 15 languages since 2011 and includes a stellar list of performers. Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Wilson, Brian Dennehy, Cynthia Nixon, George Takei -- it's a long, illustrious line-up. In India performers include Arundhati Nag and Richa Chaddha. The latest screening in Delhi saw yet another personality try it out - Rajit Kapur. Yes, Byomkesh Bakshi himself.
The night before the play, Kapur was calm, confident and clueless about what to expect. Just how the playwright wants it. In fact, the only real instructions given to the actor are these:
Do not Google this play.
Prepare to impersonate a ******** (it's been later established that it's an animal).
Once you start, you must finish...
NO MATTER WHAT.
"What do you prepare when you don't know what you're dealing with?" Kapur asked.
The Eyes Have It
Iranian-born Soleimanpour refused two years of obligatory national service because he didn't want any interruptions to his theatre career. The government, of course, didn't take too kindly to such refusal and Soleimanpour wasn't allowed to travel outside of Iran. In an interview to BBC he said that, ""Miraculously, I was diagnosed with an eye disorder in my left eye, which invalidates me for the service. Fortunately, I'm half blind."
Soleimanpour ended up watching his own play for the first time in person, in Brisbane in 2013. The play was written in 2010. By that time the play had already been staged more than 200 times.
Quasar Thakore Padamsee of QTP, which is staging the play currently, says "I saw the play in Mumbai in April when we opened it this year. We staged it in Prithvi theatre. Ali Fazal and Atul Kumar did the initial shows. One of our senior producers, Vivek Rao, had heard of the play as well before this. I had also read it but didn't know how it would pan out on the stage, given the weird format it has."
Weird, but good weird. They've already staged close to 15 performances and are looking at Kolkata and Hyderabad next. The play's translation has also been commissioned in Marathi and Hindi.