Bunny: battling sexual repression with comedy - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto
Bunny: battling sexual repression with comedy 03 March 2018
by Drew Rowsome -Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
Bunny is a very funny play with a star turn by the remarkable Maev Beaty. It is also an attempt to reconcile the muddled morals and popular appeal of Victorian literature (Jane Austen, George Eliot, etc) with contemporary mores and feminism. An ambitious undertaking that is somewhat upended by the #MeToo movement which the play's creation predates. Fortunately that only makes Bunny all the more intriguing. And more daring than probably intended.
Beaty plays a woman, Sorrel, raised by left wing intellectuals in a bubble. She is an outcast, a weirdo, in public school until she hits puberty and discovers she is attractive. And that she likes boys who suddenly like her back. Beaty speaks directly to the audience in monologues that refer to her character in the third person. She is hilarious and heartbreaking as she notes that she is probably the only girl ever to have "kissed 19 boys and won the science award." She is exceptionally intelligent and woefully naive of social structures, she is a sexually liberated Austen heroine.
Sorrel discovers ecstasy in the arms, and other fine anatomical features, of farm boy and football player Justin. Tony Ofori plays Justin with a sexy casual charm, an equivalent naivety, and just enough teenage male smarm to make him realistic. When Sorrel decides to move on out of sheer boredom and lack of intelligent conversation, Ofori is broken hearted and a casualty. Sorrel comes into her own at university but never gets over her social awkwardness or her sexual appetite.
She vacillates between the joy and guilt of being branded a slut.
She is befriended by free-spirited Maggie who, unfortunately for Rachel Cairns (Hamlet), is more of a plot device than a character (in a Wasserstein play or a Streisand movie she would be the gay bff). She, before being reduced to a Beaches reference, introduces Sorrel to her brother Carol and Sorrel begins to date him seemingly just because his being a successful businessman and trust fund baby will annoy her Das Kapital reading parents. It doesn't hurt that Carol is played by Matthew Edison (Sextet) who, out of business drag, is tall, dark and handsome. But she also conducts an affair with one of her professors, a married man.
Cyrus Lane (A Christmas Carol) as "The Professor" exhibits crack comic timing (and a fair amount of butt crack) in sequences exploring guilt, desire and the sordid appeal/horror of seedy hotel rooms. Sorrel muses that Victorian heroines always had to choose between two men, so Sorrel uses The Professor, moves on, marries Carol and then comes full circle when she ambiguously succumbs to a just post-teenage hunk Angel (Jesse LaVercombe). The name "Angel" is not the only heavy-handed symbol: Maggie nicknames Sorrel "Bunny" as in the title of the show and as in fucks-like-a, and Maggie's daughter bears the ominous Wedekindian moniker "Lola."
It is blissful, and still sadly unique, to watch a woman be rapacious and strain against the bonds of society. And to, possibly, not be punished for it. We haven't really come that far from the Victorian era. If the character of Sorrel were male, it would be a standard Philip Roth or Woody Allen narrative and those are now creepy. The scene changes where the men gather around Beaty and change her costume are very disturbing in today's context, and hint that she may be paying more of a price for her sexuality than Bunny lets on.
Of course the analyzing doesn't come until after Bunny is finished. Beaty is in perpetual mesmerizing motion, riding playwright Hanna Moscovitch's precise words from emotion to emotion. The phrases are clipped and full of pauses, the opposite of the frequently mention "long sentences" in the Victorian literature Sorrel loves to read. The monologues have the best quality of stand-up and the entire text has the quality of struggling to express the inexpressible while exploiting the full comedy of human frailty. Beaty gives an olympian performance in a gold medal play.
The ending is abrupt and the Tarragon's left-leaning audience laughed a little too hard at the mockery that flew their way, but it is impossible not to be seduced by Bunny. And impossible not to consider that sexuality, and the control and abuse of it, is a continuum stretching back centuries and is still a matter of debate. But when a comedy of manners is grounded by a performance as fearless and complete as Beaty's, Bunny is a worthy heir to Austen.