- Courtesy Of Haley Rice
- MacArthur Stine
Getting onstage and forgetting all your lines is the stuff of bad dreams for actors. So imagine taking the stage, being handed an envelope with a script you've never seen before and having to perform a play on the spot. All by yourself. That, ladies and gentlemen, is where White Rabbit Red Rabbit begins.
Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour created the devilishly ingenious work in 2010, and, although he's not allowed to leave his country, WRRR has become a sensation well beyond its borders. On this side of the pond alone, the list of actors who've accepted the challenge includes Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Stana Katic, Mike Birbiglia, Cynthia Nixon and many others.
At Town Hall Theater in Middlebury next week, MacArthur Stine will join the club. And, because of the play's veil of secrecy, he will never be able to do it again. Call it losing your Rabbit virginity.
"What I know is that I'm not supposed to google it," Stine says of the 75-minute play. In fact, the WRRR website sternly commands: "Do not google this play." Two other instructions are "Prepare to impersonate [word crossed out]" and "Once you start, you must finish ... NO MATTER WHAT."
If it sounds forbidding, well, it probably can be. The specter of an artist living under authoritarian conditions is reportedly a factor in the drama. But most critics have gushed about what they've seen: "A playful, enigmatic and haunting show," said the New York Times. "A dazzling, transcendent piece of alive-and-kicking theater," offered Entertainment Weekly.
As you can guess, this reporter did google White Rabbit Red Rabbit and found ... very little in the way of explanation. This despite the reviews, the snippets of videotaped performances and the particularly gung-ho fans ("rabbit heads") who have seen numerous iterations of the show — each time, of course, with a different actor. No one seems to have spilled the beans, a minor miracle in the age of social media. Then again, the beans are different each time, too.
A hybrid of theater and social experiment, WRRR allows for the participation of audience members, as improv does. Nonetheless, it's a marathon solo effort, and producer Haley Rice concedes that performing the play is a "terrifying" prospect. "I approached several actors who said, 'No way,'" she says.
But Rice, the operations and marketing manager at Town Hall Theater, eventually found her perfect player: her husband. Since she's the only one who has the script, and she lives with Stine, Rice says with a laugh that she can guarantee he won't have seen it. "I feel a little sadistic putting my own husband through this," she adds.
But Stine, 38, doesn't seem too worried about the challenge. The Vermont native majored in theater at college in Colorado, attended the Second City conservatory in Chicago and worked on the immersive comedy show Tony n' Tina's Wedding, among other theatrical gigs. That background should serve him well with WRRR.
"This is the actor's nightmare, but it's also sort of freeing that you can't do anything to prepare," Stine says. "I'll be told something 48 hours before, a couple of instructions. But then the lights go up, and the audience and I will discover it together."
To Rice, that's the exhilarating thing about WRRR. "The performer and the audience are on the same page," she observes. "Neither knows what will happen."
Theatergoers in Middlebury — and Stine — will find out next Thursday.