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Bunny: Hop to it. (Sorry, but you really should.)

by | Mar 19, 2022 | Review | 1 comment

publicity photo for Bunny

Emma Slipp is a star. (Photo: Emily Cooper)

Because standing up for everything makes standing ovations meaningless, I hardly ever give them. But I was on my feet at the end of Bunny before I knew it — and I was hollering, “Brava! Brava! Brava!” I was so moved by this play and production. And I am so proud of actor Emma Slipp.

A girl-then-woman named Sorrel is at the centre of Hannah Moscovitch’s script. (Sorrel’s best friend nicknames her Bunny.) The play is about Sorrel’s sexual desire, her struggle to come to terms with a hunger that society keeps telling her is inappropriate in a woman. I’m so glad that Moscovitch is celebrating female lust — and I’ve got to say that, as a queer man, much of that struggle is immediately emotionally available.

Sorrel’s parents were leftie professors at a small-town university. Das Kapital was a coffee-table book at their house and dinner-table conversations centred on questions like, “Does the Holocaust refute relativism?” Sorrel was an extremely bright kid whose upbringing isolated her from popular culture, so none of her high school classmates noticed her until, she tells us, she turned 17 and late puberty endowed her with a spectacular set of boobs and turned her into that strange anomaly, “a hot dork.”

Boys started wanting her — and she wanted them. Describing a guy named Justin, she says she loved the way his sweat smelled like grass. Girls, however, decided that Sorrel was a slut because she didn’t have to get drunk to be sexual — and the wound caused by those girls follows Sorrel into her adult life.

When she goes to university and explores herself more fully, she makes some scary choices, but judging her would be a mistake: she’s doing her best to negotiate our culture’s treacherous sexual landscape. Sorrel remains fundamentally innocent, and that’s a huge part of the charm with which Moscovitch has endowed the character. When Sorrel remembers those high-school girls cornering her and demanding to know if she was trading blow jobs for cigarettes, she also recalls her reply: “I don’t smoke.”

Slipp inhabits the character flawlessly — the innocence, the ironic self-awareness, the humour, the desire, and the raw vulnerability. Watching her — and she’s onstage non-stop for the play’s  90-minutes — I came dangerously close to becoming one of those people that other audience members have to tell to shut up. Slipp’s Sorrel is so disarming that I kept moaning in sympathy, muttering, “Oh!”, and “Oh, babe!” At one point, I was so unexpectedly ambushed by the character’s pain that I had to suck back sobs. (Sex’s companion, death, also plays a prominent role in Bunny.)

It might sound odd or presumptuous to say that I’m proud of Slipp for this performance, but I am. She’s an actor I’ve followed since she was a student at Studio 58. She’s built a solid career for herself (Noises Off, The Father, As You Like It, Macbeth), but she’s never been given an opportunity like this before and she has seized it with such skill — and humility —that, the day after the performance, I’m still getting choked up when I talk about it.

A defining characteristic of director Mindy Parfitt: she knows how to assemble a strong team. I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of seeing Ghazal Azarbad onstage: the frank generosity she brings to the role of Sorrel’s best friend Maggie is a balm. (Female friendship is one of the central subjects of this script.) And, playing Angel, a young guy who’s sexually on the make with the more mature Sorrel, Nathan Kay is outstanding. He’s onstage here with some of the best in the business and he is more than holding his own. It doesn’t feel like there’s an atom of vacant space surrounding this character, not the finest line of artificiality or visible technique: Kay’s Angel is just fully, authentically present.

Itai Erdal’s lighting skilfully supports the logic and emotion of the text without being obtrusive. He spotlights Sorrel’s monologues and, in a grand gesture, floods the stage with an abstract pattern of sunlight through trees when Sorrel is on a lake in a canoe with Angel.

Amir Ofek’s set is also bold, a series of tall, louvred panels that bring textured elegance to the necessarily flexible space. But my one significant complaint about the evening is that the sightlines Ofek and Parfitt have created are problematic. In a playing space this shallow, when characters sit or lie on the floor, as they do repeatedly here, it gets awfully hard to see them.

Still, that’s a quibble, relatively speaking. Somehow, in the long days of the pandemic, I forgot the unique thrill of the embodied — and collective — emotional experience that theatre can offer. With shows like Clean/Espejos and Bunny, which are both part of The Cultch’s productive Femme Series, that thrill is rushing back.

This is why I love the theatre.

BUNNY By Hannah Moscovitch. Directed by Mindy Parfitt. Produced by The Search Party. Seen in The Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab on Friday, March 18.  Continues until March 27. Tickets


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1 Comment

  1. Laurel

    Good review. It makes me want to see this play, which will be at the Anvil Theatre in New Westminster, February 8 – 18, 2024.


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