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Experimental play from Iran tests skills of actors

Experimental play from Iran tests skills of actors

Nassim Soleimanpour’s “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit,” which will be performed 7:30 p.m. Wednesday throug

Kim Engel is usually quite free with information regarding upcoming events at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center. This time, not so much.

’White Rabbit, Red Rabbit’

WHERE: University at Albany Performing Arts Center (Studio Theatre)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

HOW MUCH: $15, $10 for students, $20 and $15, day of event

MORE INFO: 442-3997 or www.albany.edu.pac

“It’s not your typical play, in that there is no director, no rehearsals and the actors don’t see the script until they get on stage,” said Engel, referring to Nassim Soleimanpour’s “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit,” which will be performed 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. “I tell the actors how I admire their adventurous spirit for being willing to do it. But beyond that, at the request of the playwright, I’m supposed to keep them in the dark as much as possible.”

The assistant director at UAlbany’s Performing Arts Center, Engel first heard about Soleimanpour’s play earlier this year, and thought “it would be a wonderful little project” for her to bring it to Albany. Soleimanpour is a 30-year-old Iranian who is forbidden to leave his country. He describes his work as “not so much a play as an experiment.”

“When I finally got my hand on the script and read it, I thought, ‘I have to do it,’” said Engel. “So, I got permission from the school and created a list of actors, culled it down a bit, and the first four people we invited said yes.”

The play is performed by just one actor, and for two of the shows Engel recruited two of the most familiar faces on area television in Benita Zahn, news anchor at WNYT-13, and Yvonne Perry, host of The Realty Show and the television spokesperson for Taft Furniture. Both are also busy actors in the Capital Region. Zahn will do Thursday’s performance and Perry is scheduled for Friday.

Opening up the show on Wednesday will be Chad Larabee, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Theatre at UAlbany. Ward Dales, also an educator and co-founder of Actors’ Collaborative, will do the final performance on Saturday night.

Zahn, who this past Sunday performed at WAMC’s The Linda as part of The Singing Anchors, didn’t have to think twice when Engel asked her to join the project.

“I have no idea what it is, so it is a leap of faith,” she said. “But I’m always up for a challenge and it sounded very interesting. I have done some improv, and it’s just a one-night deal so I didn’t have to learn any lines. I do love that kind of spontaneity, that idea of being in the moment of creating a full cloth out of nothing.”

Perry, who starred as Rosanna Cabot throughout much of the 1990s in the daytime drama, “As The World Turns,” said the opportunity was one she couldn’t pass up.

“For me the idea was more exciting than it was daunting,” said Perry, who also teaches at UAlbany. “I do a lot of narration work, when I do I don’t get the script very much ahead of time, so I really like to read cold. And, I was told by Kim the less I know about the piece the better, the more authentic the performance will be. Usually I’m a big researcher, but I do what I’m told.”

The play usually runs between 50 and 70 minutes according to Engel, depending on how involved the audience becomes.

“There is some audience participation, and that will affect the length of the play,” she said.

Larabee, who has directed off and off-off Broadway shows in New York when he isn’t directing at UAlbany, said he is looking forward to acting again, but with some trepidation.

“When you do something and you’re not really sure what you’re doing, it is a scary proposition,” he said. “Ultimately, I can imagine what’s going to happen and what might happen, and I think that is much more enticing than fear of the unknown. The little that I do know about this play, and what I’ve heard about the author and why he wrote it, it sounds like it’s an important thing to present in this day and age.”

Dales, who runs the theater department at Albany High, said he has already rejected the temptation of sneaking in and watching one of his fellow actors perform on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

“When the very core of the success of the piece is contingent upon your complete ignorance, you know the success is also predicated on you not violating that trust,” he said. “All I know is what Kim has told me. She said it’s a play about contemporary life in Iran, and that the playwright is forbidden to leave the country.”

“Red Rabbit, White Rabbit” had its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland in 2010. According to a Web site related to the play, the show is “an absurdist adventure [that] sits on the boundary of comedy and drama.”

The Guardian reported that the work “is a thoughtful, playful response to oppression,” and the Tulsa Examiner wrote of Soleimanpour, “he is a truly gifted theater practitioner for whom the act of writing is an act of freedom, defiance and questioning.”

The UAlbany staging of “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” will be performed in the Studio Theatre.

“It’s a 150-seat theater, but we’re limiting our capacity to 100 because the play works best with a small, intimate audience,” said Engel.

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