By Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley
At the Studio Theatre, August 18-September 24, 2016
Hannah Moscovitch’s 70-minute satire is essentially a novella pretending to be a play. Its eponymous character is a free-thinking woman who defies conventions without being truly free from guilt in the final analysis. Sorrell, the heroine, explains her nickname of Bunny for us: she has not acquired it because of her high sexual drive but because of her panic in some social situations. Sorrell maintains a retrospective commentary on herself and the men and women in her life, and while Maev Beatty excellently conveys the character’s wryly humorous self-deprecation and sense of sharp satire, Moscovitch never fleshes out any of the other characters or even solves the problem of Sorrell’s third-person narration. To speak in the first person may be a tired convention, but to address the audience in the third person is the height of presumption. This tone leaves the central character stranded between artifice and art. The device is so artificial that it practically begs our indulgence. Not since Norman Mailer, perhaps, has there been such a bald literary device masquerading as self-exposure.
Sorrell is not a real character; she is a literary projection of what a witty, self-aware Jane Austen woman would be if brought on stage. But it is a Jane Austen without a developed society. Sorrell satirizes her small Ontario town as a place where reading aloud passages of Canadian poetry passes as entertainment. This is both good and bad, because Sorrell manifests real wit while also being terribly self-conscious. Born to Left Wing academic parents who disapprove of beauty unless it is painted by Van Gogh, Sorrell inherits their politics and scholarship but not their puritanism. Her passion for the Victorian novel goes unabated, but she discovers boys and sex early, leading to one of her complications. She copes with the male teenage libido (in fact, her own libido is stronger than theirs) but not female teenage moral judgment. She loses her virginity to a husky, handsome football player (a very striking Emilio Vieira), has an affair with a married professor (Cyrus Lane), weds an ambitious businessman with political ambition (Tim Campbell) in order to irritate her starchy parents, and has a relationship as well with Angel (David Patrick Fleming), the young friend of a friend, with whom she has sex in a red canoe—her emblematic Canadian or Pierre Berton milestone moment.
Michael Gianfrancesco’s green sward set is semi-abstract, a large green rectangle edged with blue light and a white marshmallow type center. There is nothing else, apart from a wicker chair and a bunny toy, in the space to distract from the major focus on Bunny. There is also not much of a social sense or sense of developed characterization—at least of anything or anyone apart from Bunny herself. Her single important relationships with a woman becomes syrupy sentimental when that woman, Maggie, dies slowly and painfully from cancer. Krystin Pellerin is excellent in this tear-generating role, morphing from manic bike-rider to pale-faced victim with admirable restraint and conviction.
The play seems to challenge an audience more than it does its heroine Sorrel, but while this is not necessarily a flaw, it is not necessarily a good thing either, given that many character relationships are cursorily sketched rather than fully developed, and that the main character almost never stops talking in the third person. Despite Maev Beatty’s skilful physicality and expertly wry tone, audiences might justifiably want more than they get. Sarah Garton Stanley gamely and intelligently tries to disguise the play’s intrinsic faults but ultimately her production plays like a novella waiting to happen.