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Thursday, 1 September 2016

Clever Bunny: New Moscovitch play debuts at Stratford's Studio Theatre

Bunny, by Hanna Moscovitch
Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley
Designed by Michael Gianfrancesco (set, costumes), Kimberly Purtell (lighting), Alexander MacSween (composer and sound)
Featuring Maeve Beaty, Kristin Pellerin, Tim Campbell

Bunny is about sex. A woman’s sexual appetite, to be precise, and this appetite is displayed often on the Studio’s stage in this smartly-written world premiere, commissioned by the Stratford Festival from one of Canada’s rising-star playwrights.

Maeve Beaty as Sorrel and Cyrus Lane
as Ethan. Photo by David Hou.
Hannah Moscovitch makes no apologies for her play’s taboo subject matter; the sex she writes about is not gratuitous, and director Sarah Garton Stanley doesn’t treat it as such. Maeve Beaty, playing Sorrel (aka Bunny) is funny, compelling, and brave to fake not one but two orgasms on stage. This will make audience members sit straighter, but while Ms. Beaty’s performance is superb, the play itself lacks something else.

It opens with, “Let me tell you about Sorrel”, and it is Sorrel who does so, in multiple narratives, while other characters help her on with bits of costume. Yet while she tells us about Sorrel, it is always in the third person, and one gets the feeling that Sorrel doesn’t really know Sorrel, and by play’s end, neither does the audience.

Her “younger years” monologues are funnier than one might expect: “Sorrel whimsically believed that when you were having sex you couldn’t be heard”, is followed by her mother’s comment (at a weekly family meeting no less) that while “the sound of the female orgasm is beautiful… we were trying to sleep.”

These orations of awkward teenage angst and adult sexual escapades continue to paint a picture of Sorrel, and while she never asks the audience’s forgiveness for her increasing transgressions, her use of the third person does appear to be asking acceptance of them, to share in her shame, to abet her sexual impulses.

Tim Campbell as Carol and Maeve Beaty as Sorrel. Photo by David Hou.
She is not held to account, there is no epiphany, there is no reformation – at the end of the play although she has the acceptance she craves it comes late and she seems as empty as the sexual encounters she pursues.  Accountability may not be the point, but neither is Sorrel is ever empowered by her sexuality, but remains afraid (like a bunny); yet one never learns just what she is afraid of – of being found out? That her appetites are abnormal somehow? That her inability to really connect with someone is abnormal? All of the above?

The ending feels just a bit too abrupt, with the friendship between Sorrel and Maggie (Kristin Pellerin) revealed as the only relationship Sorrel really seems to care about, the only person to whom she can say “I love you”. This too is abrupt – there is little buildup in their previous scenes together (even though Ms. Pellerin exudes warmth), so while grateful for it, the inarticulate Bunny looks just as scared as ever as the light fades to black.
Kristin Pellerin as Maggie and Maeve Beaty as Sorrel. Photo by David Hou.
But perhaps this is Moscovitch’s point – Maggie is about to die of cancer, and it may simply be too late for Sorrel to find peace with herself now. But somehow I don’t think so. At play’s end one still sees a woman who does not know herself, and whose fear will continue to define her as much as her sexual appetite.

Bunny continues in repertory at the Studio Theatre until September 24th

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