Review: BUNNY

by Lynn on August 26, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Studio Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Written by Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley
Designed by Michael Gianfrancesco
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Composer and sound designer, Alexander MacSween
Cast: Maev Beaty
Tim Campbell
David Patrick Flemming
Jessica B. Hill
Cyrus Lane
Krystin Pellerin
Emilio Vieira

A deeply thought, richly layered play about coming into ones own, secrets, friendship, and the intoxicating lure of sex in all the wrong places.

The Story. Bunny is about a shy, awkward young woman named Sorrel. “Geek” would be a perfect description for her. She and her brother grew up with two odd-ball parents who were university professors. Supper time was a time of debate over deep philosophical questions. This family didn’t believe in frivolity or materialism. Sorrel’s clothes were dowdy, unstylish and unfashionable. Entertainment to this family meant reading books. Sorrel’s choice of reading material were those of the Victorians. Study and industriousness ruled Sorrel’s life. She was brainy. As a result she had no friends. None. Even the other geeks did not seek her out that’s how isolated she was.

But something happens when she is 17. She blossoms into a gorgeous, attractive woman. Her male peers find her attractive and she returns the interest. She revels in men, kissing (she keeps count of how many men she has kissed) and later, sex. By kissing a lot of boys her reputation suffers. She is thought to be a slut—which isn’t true. She doesn’t seem to care. Then came a boyfriend and sex. Nothing could dampen her yearning for sex and men. She became a university professor of Victorian English—lots of sex there it seems.

She is befriended by a woman named Maggie, who is a single mother—her first true friend. Maggie gives her the nickname ‘Bunny’. That name suggests cuteness, harmless, innocence and perhaps multiplying uh, ‘like rabbits.’

Sorrel tries to live a conventional life but there are secrets that Sorrel can’t share with Maggie or anyone but us, the audience. Then Maggie needs Sorrel as a true friend and that does reveal something about the relationship. Sorrel tells Maggie that she loves her. We know it’s not in a sexual way but in a true friendship way. Sorrel has never told anyone she loved them before Maggie. I found that interesting.

The Production. Sorrel is our narrator and Maev Beaty plays her beautifully. She stands centre stage wearing a dowdy sweater covering her dress. Her shoes are clunky. Her hair is tied back with an elastic band. She is awkward, fidgety and smilingly. She tells us about her life to that point, referring to herself in the third person, perhaps to create some distance as if she might be disavowing any connection to that person. Over the course of the play Sorrel will often come forward and comment on what is happening. We are the ones in whom she confides completely.

As she gets more confident and self-assured, the sweater comes off revealing a smart dress that reveals the blossoming woman in front of us. The elastic band around her hair will come off too. Occasionally her hair hangs free.

While Sorrel is poised with other characters, she is ‘herself’ with the audience. Here Maev Beaty is almost self-conscious about the secrets she has to hide and the wrong men to whom she is attracted.

As Sorrel discovers the power of her allure to men, she uses that confidence and coyness to take her to the next step—sex. It’s as if the floodgates of pent up emotions are suddenly let free both for Sorrel and the men with whom she is involved. The sex is lusty, noisy and compelling. Restraint is impossible for Sorrel and her partners.

You embrace this character whose world has opened up—a world of literary accomplishment, of men and sex—but in which she has to keep it fairly secret as she does try to live a conventional life. Sorrel now has a friend in Maggie, but for various reasons can’t really confide in her. Maggie has to cope with being a single mother and upheaval in her life. Krystin Pellerin as Maggie, does it with a gentle calmness but also a bit of frustration as her time slips away.

As Ethan, one of Sorrel’s lovers, Cyrus Lane is boyishly charming, confident but lost in Sorrel’s allure. As Carol, Maggie’s brother (yes, brother) and another man in Sorrel’s life, Tim Campbell is a steady presence in Sorrel’s life, devoted but a bit distracted with work.

This bracing production is directed with focused economy by Sarah Garton Stanley. There are very few props in Michael Gianfrancesco’s spare set, but enough to create the world of that layered play.

Comment. I think Hannah Moscovitch has found her strong, individual voice in the last few plays, and certainly in Bunny. Her plays keep getting deeper and richer and multi-layered. There was a time in the past when I thought she was channelling David Mamet too much with characters stammering and hesitating in their speech, but certainly not here. And her recent work has been recognized for that maturity. She is one of the nine winners of Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize for Literary Achievement.

Moscovitch read a lot growing up, especially Victorian novels which she loved. She says that she is re-examining what she blindly loved about that world in Bunny. And while I do enjoy the depth of the writing and the layers of the characters, I can’t help but feel that the play isn’t finished. While Sorrel tells Maggie she loves her, there seems to be a disconnect between the two women. Sorrel can’t tell Maggie her secrets. One in particular would cause a rift between them. Is this deliberate? Is Moscovitch trying to suggest that even with a true friend, Sorrel is not able to make the same commitment of friendship as Maggie has?

She thinks she knows Sorrel but we know she doesn’t. In the end Maggie tells Sorrel not to be afraid. One wonders of what? Because of her obsession with the seductive and the sensual, Sorrel lives dangerously. She can’t help it. So of what would she be afraid? I think there is need of a bit more revelation here to close the gap between Maggie and Sorrel, unless that is Moscovitch’s point. That in spite of Sorrel saying she loves Maggie as a true friend, Sorrel is still that awkward woman who is friendless.

I love that Hannah Moscovitch gets me to go deeper and think harder about her work.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Opened: Aug. 18, 2016.
Closes: Sept. 24, 2016.
Cast: 7; 4 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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1 Michael Fox September 12, 2016 at 1:30 pm

One small observation, from a man’s perspective:

I appreciated that Hannah Moscovitch portrayed the men in her piece with equanimity.

Too often, in plays of this nature, (explorations of the complexities of feminine sexuality), the portrayal of the men in the story is, at best, shallow, and at worst, condemnatory. There was no point in this story when I felt that the men in Sorrel’s life were being blamed for anything. They weren’t boorish or stupid; nor culpable of anything worse than those of Sorrel’s own frailties.

For this relief, much thanks Hannah.