***** (out of 5)
The Stratford Festival offers a world premiere of a play that it commissioned for the small Studio Theatre. There are several stumbling blocks in that venture and the only safety cushion is the size of the venue. In the case of Hannah Moscovitch’s Bunny they need not have worried. Bunny is an intelligent, funny, literate and well-produced play that earns kudos for all concerned. To put it more bluntly, you mix sex, literature and laughter, you get a winner.
At least Moskovitch does. Sorrel (Maev Beaty) is a bright and attractive girl who does not mix well with other teenagers. Her parents are leftist, anti-capitalist college teachers. Sorrel is steeped in 19th century literature from a young age but she is a bit of a geek. She dresses badly. She discovers boys (kissing 19 of them in high school) and then sex. She moves from the captain of the football team, to a professor, and just maybe another young man.
Maev Beaty as Sorrel and Emilio Vieira as Justin in Bunny. Photography by David Hou
Sorrel tells us her own story as she tries to make contact with people. Her nickname is Bunny because she seems always scared and on the lookout. Her best friend or perhaps only friend is Maggie (Krystin Pellerin), a woman who has a child from a casual affair but displays spunk and common sense. Maggie is perceptive and deeply human. She succeeds in becoming Sorrel’s friend only near the end of her own life in a moving and dramatic scene.
Maggie’s daughter Lola (Jessica B. Hill) has a boyfriend named Angel (David Patrick Flemming) who is attracted to Sorrel and will play a defining role in her, Sorrel’s, life.
Justin (Emilio Vieira), the captain of the football team, is a nice Catholic boy and his parents are a bit more than the bright Sorrel can take.
Ethan (Cyrus Lane) is her professor who happens to be married and has sex with Sorrel in cheap hotels and backrooms of the bar where she works while a student. It is a mutual arrangement and attraction and one cannot attach too much opprobrium on him.
Maggie’s brother Carol (Tim Campbell) is a wooden business man who would never understand her. It is hard to say why she marries him but perhaps what is lacking is not in him but in Sorrel herself. There is a resolution in the end but she and the audience must decide what and if it is a true resolution.
Krystin Pellerin (left) as Maggie and Maev Beaty as Sorrel in Bunny. Photography by David Hou.
Every character and every incident represents a different layer in Sorrel’s life. From her literary tastes and references to her various relationships, we see a complex woman growing up, developing and maturing.
Maev Beaty carries most of the show with rest of the cast being almost satellites in her various encounters and growth. She is steeped in Victorian literature and is often seen with a hefty book by George Elliot in her hand. She becomes a professor of Victorian literature and like, say, Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice or Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch she has intelligence and wit but lacks their strength. Her sexual partners seem to haunt her long after she has left them behind. An impressive performance by Beaty.
The small playing area of the Studio is changed efficiently to focus on Sorrell and to change the scene from a bar to a motel to Maggie’s house and a cottage up north. Kudos to designer Michael Gianfrancesco.
Director Sarah Garton Stanley has a fine play to work with and an excellent cast and she puts them through their paces with expertise and high effectiveness.
A major achievement all around.
Bunny by Hannah Moskovitch continues until September 24, 2006 at the Studio Theatre, 34 George Street East, Stratford. Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca