Review: ‘White Rabbit, Red Rabbit’ at San Francisco International Arts Festival

Writer Rebels against Iranian Censors

by Barry David Horwitz


This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“White Rabbit, Red Rabbit,” a solo play by Nassim Soleimanpour, comes out of an envelope at the performance.  A local actor (on Sunday, May 29, it is Russell Blackwood), who hasn’t seen the script before, reads and speaks the words with and to the audience, one time only. With charm and surprise, he engages us with the one hour work, interacting as he goes. The playwright cannot leave Iran, cannot get a passport because he refuses to serve in the military, and more than that, we cannot tell you. It’s a Rabbit-driven surprise, each time. He is present in the room. There’s a chair for him in the front row.

Each actor performs the script fresh, and only one time. It has happened all over the world, since 2012. Well-known actors have performed it, including Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Cynthia Nixon, Martin Short, and David Hyde Pierce in New York. At the San Francisco International Arts Festival, at Fort Mason, others are scheduled this week, including Nancy Wang, Rob Melrose, Eliana Lopez, and Tony Kelly, each performing for local groups and causes.

Russell Blackwood, artistic director of Thrillpeddlers, was charming, witty, winning, funny, and serious. Every performance has its own unique charm, it’s very personal. Some actors say they enjoy the surprise and the chance to engage with the work, unrehearsed. In the piece, playwright Soleimanpour speaks to us directly and there is no mistaking his voice and the freshness of the message. Blackwood brought it to life, and the writer was there with us, intimately, in The Chapel at Fort Mason on Sunday.

What we have here is a radical, new form, a fresh look at the actor-audience interaction, a personal message complete with the playwright’s email address in Iran, so we can write to him about the singular performance we just saw. It’s a one-time event that can never be repeated.

Unless you go this week to see another actor bring you the personal and political message about liberation and free speech, you will never know what this spontaneity is worth. Maybe it will be worth a lot to you. It’s yet another secret until you go and find out with the “actor” who opens the envelope for the first time at Fort Mason this week.

Joy. You have to be there to experience the joy of communicating with an artist across time and space. One time only. Say hello to Nassim. Oh, and it’s great fun!

“Red Rabbit, White Rabbit” will play at SFIAF, Fort Mason, through Sunday, June 5, 2016, as follows. 

Nancy Wang performs on Thursday, June 2, at 8:00 p.m. Click here for details.
Rob Melrose performs on Friday, June 3, at 7:00 p.m. Click here for details.
Eliana Lopez performs on Saturday, June 4, at 2:00 p.m. Click here for details.
Tony Kelly performs on Sunday, June 5, at 3:00 PM. Click here for details.


Rating: There’s no need to rate the “Rabbit” because it’s beyond any stars. It stands on its own and speaks for itself.


“Red Rabbit, White Rabbit” by Nassim Soleimanpour. Produced by the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Performed by Russell Blackwood on Sunday, May 29, at 7:00 PM.











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