As a well-seasoned performer, Eva DeVirgilis has taken the stage solo, in the buff, and as 12 characters in a single play. She’s performed stand-up comedy, had Vincent D’Onofrio as an acting coach, and appeared on such television shows “Turn” and “Law and Order.” She’s lectured at TEDxRVA and is a frequent performer in the local improv comedy scene.
But none of this could totally prepare her for “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” a theater piece in which performers read a script for the first time in front of an audience. Penned by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, the play requires that actors have neither read nor seen the show before they perform it.
“I’ve never done anything like this where there’s an audience,” DeVirgilis says. “I open the script and I have no idea what’s in it.”
She won’t be the only one involved in the experiment. Eleven other local performers will tackle this show in its Richmond run, produced by TheatreLab and Keri Wormald.
The eclectic mix of actors and personalities includes actors McLean Jesse, Katrinah Carol Lewis and Scott Wichmann, retired television news anchor Gene Cox, Style editor in chief Jason Roop and burlesque producer Deanna Danger.
When Soleimanpour wrote the script, he was restricted from leaving his native Iran because he refused to serve in his country’s military, which is mandatory for Iranian men. With no way to travel, Soleimanpour penned “White Rabbit” to be performed in other countries. The play is staged with a minimal set, no director and no rehearsals. Part of the show’s magic is the implication that audience members must keep what happens a secret.
Now living in Berlin, Soleimanpour says via email that the play was inspired by “a nightmare that I had some years ago, in which I killed myself on stage in front of an audience that contained my closest friends and parents.”
Years after writing the script, Soleimanpour recently saw a performance of the show for the first time: “It felt good. No matter how strange you might feel, it’s always good to meet with yourself in the past. How do you feel if you see a photo of yourself which was taken years ago, a photo which you’ve never had a chance to see before?”
Producer Wormald’s introduction to the play was completely by chance. While walking through the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland, she spotted a poster for a staging that began in 15 minutes.
“I walked in and I thought it was great,” Wormald says. “I found myself leaning in and smiling while I was watching the show. It gives you a lot to think about.”
Without giving away too much, Wormald describes the show as a conversation between a man in Iran who cannot leave his country and the rest of the world.
“We get a clandestine flight into Tehran to talk to this young playwright,” Wormald says. “He’s a curious person who wants to teach the world to live in perfect harmony.”
Among the show’s quirks is that it asks audience members to leave their cell phones on for a number of reasons, including adding the playwright as a contact.
“When an audience member leaves, he welcomes them to message him,” Wormald says. “He wants to keep this worldwide communication going with the people who saw his show.”
While Wormald stresses that the play isn’t political, she says this staging comes at an interesting time in geopolitics. While politicians wrestle with whether the United States should trust Iran and its nuclear plans, the play deals in large part with the performer trusting a playwright from Iran.
“[This play] humanizes the other, in this case, Iran,” Wormald says. “It’s a good thing. That’s why I wanted to bring it to Richmond. We don’t have a lot of shows that have international implications.” S
Keri Wormald and TheatreLab’s “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” runs June 8-21 at the Basement, 300 E. Broad St. Tickets cost $12-$18.
Mon, June 8 at 8 p.m.: McLean Jesse, Artist, actor, designer
Tue, June 9 at 8 p.m.: Gene Cox, Retired WWBT anchorman, author
Wed, June 10 at 8 p.m.: Katrinah Carol Lewis, Actor, singer
Fri, June 12 at 11 p.m: Katie Holcomb, Artistic Director, Comedy Coalition
Sat, June 13 at 11 p.m.: Jason Roop, Editor-in-chief, Style Weekly
Sun, June 14 at 2 p.m.: Robert Throckmorton, Actor
Mon, June 15 at 8 p.m.: Jill Bari Steinberg, Actor
Tue, June 16 at 8 p.m.: John Porter, WCVE theatre critic, comedian
Wed, June 17 at 8 p.m.: Deanna Danger, Burlesque producer, performer
Fri, June 19 at 11 p.m.: Eva DeVirgilis, Actress, make up artist
Sat, June 20 at 11 p.m.: Scott Wichmann, Actor, Navy Reservist
Sun, June 21 at 2 p.m.: Tiffany Jana, CEO, TMI, Inc., producer, actor