Review: BUNNY

by Lynn on March 1, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer


Maev Beaty
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Hannah Moscovitch

Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley

Set and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco

Lighting by Nick Andison

Composer and sound designer, Alexander MacSween

Cast: Gabriella Albino

Maev Beaty

Rachel Cairns

Matthew Edison

Cyrus Lane

Jesse LaVercombe

Tony Ofori

Hannah Moscovitch has written a layered, complex play about obsessive sex, yearning, hiding your true self, friendship and acceptance. Maev Beaty glows as Bunny.

 The Story.  Sorrel was a geeky kid who grew up with two hippy parents. Supper-time banter involved esoteric philosophizing. She wore dowdy clothes. She was a whip smart in school and had no friends. None. Then at seventeen something happened—she blossomed into a beautiful woman that attracted all the men. She counted all the times she kissed a man. It was a badge of honour for her. Then she got a boyfriend and had sex and her life burst open. The intoxication of sex and the men who could supply it  left her dizzy with longing. Often it was attraction or sex or both with the wrong men; a married university professor, a young friend of the daughter of a friend. Once it was the brother of a friend whom she married.

Sorrel accidentally meets a woman, a single parent named Maggie, who becomes perhaps her one true friend. Sorrel is as close to Maggie as she has ever been to another person without there being sex. That friendship is tested late in the play.

Maggie is the one who gives Sorrel her nickname of “Bunny” because she says that Sorrel looked as afraid as a bunny does. It’s a prophetic comment.

 The Production. Bunny’s world premier production was at the Stratford Festival in 2016. As with the Stratford production a few people are repeating their splendid work in the Tarragon Theatre production:  Sarah Garton Stanley directs, Michael Gianfrancesco designs the set and costumes, Alexander MacSween is the composer and sound designer, Maev Beaty plays Sorrel (Bunny), and Cyrus Lane plays the Professor.

Most of the action takes place within a large white circle on the floor of the stage. Sorrel is almost always inside the circle, perhaps it symbolizes her enclosed world. When Sorrel (Maev Beaty) addresses the audience she stands downstage, on the edge of the circle and addresses us in the third person. Referring to herself in the third person suggests a distance Sorrel is establishing between herself and what? Don’t know, but it adds a sadness that I think is right for this character, so consumed with guilt and desire.

At first she is dressed in a dowdy dress and sweater over it. All the men in Sorrel’s life over the course of the play diligently put on the sweater and then stand behind and beside her, all hands smoothing the collar, doing up the buttons, smoothing the sweater. One feels uncomfortable watching this, yet it’s also funny to watch, which is the point. The times certainly has changed our perceptions.

Maev Beaty as Sorrel, goes through her life-story, naming the men and the blossoming desire often wringing her hands in nervousness, awkwardness, a smile, self-deprecating humour, and a lack of confidence that is endearing and breathless. Beaty is such a nuanced, graceful actress, so attuned to illuminating the many layers to Sorrel that she is absolutely compelling.

Beaty realizes Sorrel’s burst of sensuality and desirability that is a surprise to her and yet frightening—she cannot avoid temptation. She succumbs to it. The sex she has is loud, noisy and mutually aggressive with her partners. When she and the Professor give in to their desire for each other he lifts her up to straddle him and presses her to the back wall, both grunting, panting and noisily climaxing. Director Sarah Garton Stanley positions the scene upstage suggesting the secrecy of the moment, realizing the efforts to hide the act but not being able to. Sarah Garton Stanley’s direction is thoughtful, clear and fearless—she realizes the ‘grunt’ as well as the ‘sigh’ of a scene.

As the Professor Cyrus Lane is boyishly charming, flirty and conflicted because he’s married and he’s attracted to this young woman.

While the whole cast is fine, Rachel Cairns as Maggie deserves mention—she is a walking wound. Maggie reaches out to Sorrel in such a needy, open way, and when Maggie gets sick we see a woman hanging on with every breath but letting go at the same time. Heartbreaking.

Comment. In her program note Hannah Moscovitch says that when she was a teen and then in university she was a huge fan of the Victorian novel; was obsessed by then; read them all the time. “Bunny is an attempt to reckon with the novels I worshipped so blindly as a teenager, to scrutinize them, hold them to account. I’ve drawn on the Modernists, on those subversive novelists who consciously queried form.”

Sorrel too loves the Victorian novel. She reads them all the time. She became a professor teaching the Victorian novel.  Every time she reads a novel it’s a Victorian tome and a character asks what she’s reading, Sorrel doesn’t tell the character the title. Rather she holds the book up. I don’t know about anyone sitting close but from the middle of the theatre I couldn’t tell what the title was or even if she held up the book so that someone other than the character could read it. Not seeing or hearing the title is not a problem. It’s part of the mystery of Sorrel and her efforts to keep secrets. She keeps her lovers secret from Maggie as much as possible.

Hannah Moscovitch has written a bracing play full of dazzling language, incite into the passionate, lust-loving heart and trying to keep it all a secret. She has created characters who are full-bodied, human and have such charm we want to be in the room with them. Bravo.

Produced by Tarragon Theatre

Opened: Feb. 28, 2018.

Closes: April 1, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.


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