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Expect the Unexpected at Alley With the Avant-Garde White Rabbit Red Rabbit

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Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg have taken the leap. So have Cynthia Nixon, David Hyde Pierce and Alan Cumming. But for those actors who have gone on to perform a cold reading of White Rabbit Red Rabbit in front of a live audience, they can never go down that rabbit hole again.

The key to what's being described as a global phenomenon (it has been translated into more than 20 languages and performed more than a thousand times worldwide) is the element of surprise, both for the audience and for the actor.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit was written in 2010 by then-landlocked Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour (his unwillingness to leave the theater long enough to do his two years in national service meant he couldn't get a passport), who wants people to take a leap into the unknown and who zeroed in on a unique format for his play. 

"Unlike a normal play, the actor will get [the script] at the beginning," says Elizabeth Frankel, Alley's director of new work. "They're reading along, the idea will be new to them, new to the audience. Both will be in the same position of being surprised, as opposed to something more familiar, like A Midsummer Night's Dream. We're telling people, 'Don't Google it.' Go along for the ride."

For the Houston production, at the Alley Theatre, which is being produced in the intimate 110-seat Texas Room on the fourth floor, the 70-minute (no intermission) cold readings are being performed by Elizabeth Bunch on July 20, James Black on July 27, Melissa Pritchett on August 3 and Chris Hutchison on August 10.

"Actors really do like to be challenged and do new things," says Frankel. "Obviously, a big feature of anybody coming to see the show is that every actor is going to have a different take. You're having an adventure with the actor. You're kind of on the adventure with them, seeing if they're nervous. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing it multiple times."

As for the content of the play, the experience is enhanced by staying in the dark. All that Frankel will admit to is that the playwright distilled "the experience of an entire generation in a wild play." She says that, as with Remote Houston (which originated in Germany and returns to the Alley in September), this play (which had a big history in Europe) offers another opportunity to bring exciting works to Houston with new producing models.

"I imagine that this is the moment where you get to see the actor's personality. They'll be doing what the script asks of them, but they won't have time to see the next line," says Frankel. "This will be a moment where you're going on a journey with Elizabeth Bunch, on an adventure with James Black, or seeing what happens when Melissa Pritchett picks up the script for the first time or how Chris Hutchison deals with a challenge."

Performances are Wednesdays, July 20 through August 10 at 7:45 p.m. at Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700, alleytheatre.org. $10.

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