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Alan Cumming and George Takei in ‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |


In Nassim Soleimanpour’s unconventional Off-Broadway play, 'White Rabbit Red Rabbit,' a new performer is given the script for the very first time as he or she steps onto the stage

Ever had a dream where you show up to a test and you haven’t studied? Or you’re about to give a speech but have no idea what you’re going to say? Diving into the unknown is terrifying, but it can also be alluring. 

Now imagine you’re an actor in a play, but you haven’t read the script and have had no rehearsal. There’s no set, no director. But this isn’t a dream. In Nassim Soleimanpour’s unconventional Off-Broadway play, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, a new performer is given the script for the very first time as he or she steps onto the stage.

As he was not permitted to leave his home country, the young Iranian playwright wrote this piece as his conduit with the world, as an outlet to share his voice. The rotating Monday night cast has already included an eclectic mix of performers, including Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Short, Bobby Cannavale, Nathan Lane, Patrick Wilson, Brian Dennehy, David Hyde Pierce and Cynthia Nixon.

On Monday June 6, Alan Cumming bravely starred in the comic drama. The following week, George Takei goes on. Cumming and Takei shared their thoughts with us about appearing in a play about which they know nothing. “As we say on Star Trek,” says Takei, “I ‘boldly go where no man has gone before.'”

Alan Cumming, George Takei (Photos: Justin Stephens/CBS, Adam Bouska)

Alan Cumming, George Takei (Photos: Justin Stephens/CBS, Adam Bouska)

What’s the scariest moment you’ve ever had on stage?

Alan Cumming: There have been several, but I think the worst was when I banged my head on a light rushing back on stage during a performance of Cabaret in 1999 and continuing the show as my body started to deal with a very major concussion. I had to go to the hospital at the intermission. It was really weird to be performing as the lights were going out — only they weren’t. It was my body shutting down.

The funny thing was — there was a lady in the audience who fainted that night as it was really hot, and she ended up in the next room to me at the hospital. They said to her, “You know how excited you were to see Alan Cumming and how sad you were to miss him… well, here he is!” Then they wheeled in a trolley with me on it, tubes and wires attached!

George Takei: The scariest moment in my life was when I auditioned for a civil rights musical titled, Fly Blackbird, at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York in 1959. I had never been on a Broadway stage before or in a space that felt so vast and cavernous. My voice seemed to go out into the ether and simply fade away.

 

What appealed most to you about White Rabbit Red Rabbit — the challenge? The mystery? The cause? Or something else?

Alan Cumming:  All of the above. The unknown fascinates me.  I verge on the reckless.

George Takei: I’ve done improv many times and enjoyed it. I had great fun on the television improv show, Thank God You’re Here! This seemed to be a similar challenge with the added dimension of an important cause.

 

PEN International fights for writers’ voices across the globe. Have you ever had someone try to silence your voice? What was the situation?

George Takei: I’ve been a social justice advocate all my adult life. But, throughout my life as an activist, I was silent about the one issue closest and most personal to me. I am gay. I was silent because of the oppressive social climate and my passion for and determination to protect my acting career at all costs. It wasn’t until I was in my sixties that I had the guts and the sense of outrage that I came “out” and spoke out to the press for the first time.

Alan Cumming: I am a queer man living in the United States of America. My voice is still trying to be silenced in some quarters. But also, I find that whatever I speak out about — the independence vote in Scotland, LGBT rights the presidential election — there are always people who want to silence you because they don’t agree with you. I can’t imagine telling anyone they have no right to an opinion. Unless of course, they haven’t voted in an election and then complain about politicians. That really gets my goat!

 

Are you a risk-taker? What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

Alan Cumming: I am. And the biggest risk?  I need to know you better to let you into that secret!

George Takei:  They say smart actors don’t invest money in their own productions. By that definition, I am a dumb actor because I invested in my production about the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, a musical titled, Allegiance. It is a very personal story and an important American story that everybody should know. I consider it my legacy project.

 

Have you ever done anything like this before where you’ve had no rehearsal and gone straight into performance?

George Takei: No, but, as we say on Star Trek, “I boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Alan Cumming: I once did a performance of a play called An Oak Tree with the performer Tim Crouch. It was similar in that you were encouraged to not find out anything about the piece and come to it completely open and free.  However, Tim performed it with you, so it wasn’t nearly as scary as this feels!

 

If you could suggest one person to participate in White Rabbit Red Rabbit, who would it be?

George Takei: Frank Langella, Mark Strong, Bill Clinton.

Alan Cumming: I think Mary Beth Peil would love to do it, and I would watch her read the phone book.

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