Now imagine you’re an actor doing a play called White Rabbit Red Rabbit. It comes with a few rules: no rehearsal, no director, no set, no cast mates, no advance look at the script.
Makes that trapeze thing seem kind of easy, right?
Atlanta’s Out of Hand Theater is producing White Rabbit Red Rabbit at a dozen or so private homes and at least that many theaters through Nov. 23. The drama, by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, was his response to being unable to leave his country. At age 29 he refused to serve in the military, so authorities took his passport.
Out of Hand Co-Artistic Director Adam Fristoe had been hearing about the piece for a few years. Last spring he saw a staging produced by the Theater Alliance of Washington, D.C., in much the way Out of Hand is doing it — getting the rights, then curating performances in different spaces with really great actors.
If the project sounds like an actor’s nightmare, consider this. Fristoe says that with very few exceptions, Atlanta actors approached to do the project signed on eagerly. That list includes names you should recognize — Tom Key, Carolyn Cook, Joe Knezevich, Chris Kayser, Maia Knispel, Suehyla El-Attar, Rhoda Griffis, Anthony Rodriguez, Richard Garner and many others.
Precisely 48 hours before the actor goes on, he or she gets a note from the playwright that includes a tiny bit of advance information about the piece. The script isn’t seen until the cold reading begins.
Audiences are similarly in the dark. At the top of the show, they learn that an Iranian wrote the play and that the actor they’re seeing has never read the script or seen the play. “That creates this theatrical electricity,” Fristoe says, happily, “and willingness and dread, too.”
White Rabbit Red Rabbit is playing all over the world right now, Fristoe says. Reviews like this one from Brighton, England, are the norm: “A stunning piece of theater, thought-provoking and morally unsettling. It’s a wonderful testament to the power of words to transcend cultures and borders.” Or this, from Vogue: “Ab-crunchingly funny.”
Fristoe says: “It just sounds like an Out of Hand show.” The ever-unconventional company, which has been around since at least 2001, creates innovative new work, mostly in unexpected places.
Consider last fall’s Salome, done as a salon series done in private homes with limited audience sizes. Its lone cast member, Out of Hand co-founder Maia Knispel, served tea and delivered a 45-minute monologue about “sex, pleasure, manipulation, violence and discovering who one is.”
Out of Hand’s Breakup, which often plays the festival circuit, features one audience member hopping into a car with one performer. They fall in love, fall out of love and break up in the course of two minutes. Hence the title.
HELP! in 2006 was a smart, interactive and raucous riff on self-help seminars; MEDS in 2007 was a madcap critique of the pharmaceutical industry and better living through chemistry.
Out of Hand has also put its spin on more recognizable titles, like August Strindberg’s Miss Julie and Charles L. Mee’s Big Love, but it lives most comfortably on the edge. Its credo, “New work for new audiences,” only hints at how much.