Tag Archives: ART

WHITE RABBIT RED RABBIT // Nassim Soleimanpour

In order to get to White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour — as much as we can, that is — we need to start here and now. For me, here and now means sitting in front of a computer at my day job at 8:44am on April 13th, 2018, trying to rewind to where and how I was last night in seat 44D, watching Susannah Mars slit open a white envelope, lean forward, and begin.

Here and now for you is something else. You are somewhere, too, reading these words that I am typing and deleting, typing and deleting again, trying to distill a wild tangle of thoughts about performance and politics and ostriches into what is, at the end of the day, a collection of pixels on a screen. I don’t know where you are, or when you are, or even if you are. Do we have anything in common? Is when you are anything like when I am? Despite the superficial differences that are sure to exist between us, there are some things that don’t change. More importantly, in this moment of me writing, which is my present and your past, and your reading, which is your present and my future, we are connected.

This is only the tiniest fragment of what makes White Rabbit Red Rabbit special, and there is only so much I can say about how and why it works before it feels like a betrayal of the piece, not to mention of both the Nassim Soleimanpour who wrote it in 2010 and the Nassim Soleimanpour who, we assume, we hope, is still out there writing in 2018. The set-up is deceptively simple: every night, a different actor takes the stage (in this run, as part of the A.R.T. Frontier Series: Susannah Mars, John San Nicolas, Ayanna Berkshire, and Darius Pierce). In the room are a sealed envelope containing the text, two glasses of water, a ladder, a group of individuals who have decided to become an audience. Crucially, the actor has never seen the text before, and together with the audience, they plunge blindly into a tale that slips from broad, comedic allegory to presumed autobiography to a subtler critique of the many visible and invisible systems that have convinced us we are under their control.

It would just be a clever gimmick, except that the precipice this mechanism strands the actor and the audience on, together, is what creates its power. It’s also its greatest weakness, a intentional duality of form that’s reflected throughout the piece’s many narrative strands. The success of this show is inseparable from the particular give and take between that night’s actor and that night’s audience, which is an electrifying prospect; however, on the night I saw it, the vocal overconfidence of a few, scattered audience members pulled focus in ways that deflated moments I would have liked to have seen breathe, and overall made for an experience that was more uneven than I would have liked. But I want to be clear that, in this, my disappointment might very well have been someone else’s delight — any frustrations or false starts are also very much the point, and I’m tempted to think that Nassim Soleimanpour would actually be thrilled.

After all, there is no real way to prepare for whatever will happen next. There are no rehearsals for choosing to trust someone, for making up your own mind, for doing the right thing. Over 12 hours later, here in my present that is also your past, sitting in front of a computer at my day job, I am also still frozen in seat 44D, my stomach knotting as Nassim Soleimanpour, with the skill and cooperation of Susannah Mars, and the attention and cooperation of April 12th’s audience, slowly twisted a rhetorical knife that didn’t seem dangerous until it was too late.

Guest Post for RISK/REWARD 2017!

Twenty minutes is nothing, and forever.

At Risk/Reward, twenty minutes is an entire ecosystem. A planet that unfolds itself, envelops you in its particular air and quality of light, and then—with varying degrees of gentleness—spits you back out into the stars for the next planet to appear out of the darkness and pull you in. Two hours later, walking out after the last piece, I felt like examining myself for passport stamps, skinned knees, seasickness: any lingering sign that my heart and mind had just been whirled into and out of six stunning and gut-busting and gloriously difficult worlds.

read the rest over at the Risk/Reward blog!

RODNEY KING // Roger Guenveur Smith

Rodney King is the most profound solo performance I have ever seen. Roger Guenveur Smith is a jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly incredible writer and performer. Three days on I am still reaching for words that will fit the enormity and depth of the experience. I don’t know that they exist. Even if they do, my voice really doesn’t matter much in this conversation: I’m a middle-class white girl. With a show like this, with history like this, it’s my job to show up and listen.

What I can tell you is, whether you too are a middle-class white girl or not, listen to what Smith is doing, and listen hard. From the moment Smith appears, words already rolling out of his mouth at a steady, studied clip, until the last, slow-motion second as he disappears from view, he pulls the audience to him. We are, instantly, in his world. He moves, constantly and with complete control, riding out invisible shifts in the ground that are one moment waves, then a Los Angeles freeway, then the swimming pool where Rodney King was found dead, then waves again. Though his narrative meanders, it circles itself with precision: there is not a word or a motion wasted, and it is utterly mesmerizing.

The picture that starts this post contains almost every “design” element of the piece: a rectangle of white paint on the floor, surrounded by a moat of matte black, a corded microphone snaking up from below. A black baseball jersey with Los Angeles across the front, black pants, no shoes. All that’s missing is a mad collage of music and TV reportage that ushers the piece in (and, artful and helpful in equal measure, grounds it in its specific space and time), a spotlight that sometimes forms a smaller cage inside the rectangle’s limits, and the awful, blaring red and blue of police lights. Signs and symbols stripped down to the essentials, creating space for the looping, interconnected web Smith is always, always weaving.

In the end, Rodney King is about a lot of things. It’s about justice in America, and how often and horrifically our justice system falls short. It’s about three horrifying, confused days in L.A. in 1992. It’s about the deep, undeniable wounds that racism and violence have torn open (and continue to tear open) in our country. And it’s about Rodney King and his complicated humanity, and the complicated humanity of Smith, too, standing before us with only a microphone and his heart and a story that demands hearing. It is a truly remarkable thing to be present for such generosity of spirit, and I will forever be grateful to have cried and breathed and learned together with that audience.

This weekend, Rodney King comes to Netflix. I am sure it will be a different experience, because these things always are, but watch anyway. It is too important to look away.

 

 

 

Picture by Patti McGuire