At the Hop: “Planet of the Warrior Bunnies”

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Presented by Unreliable Narrator
Written and Directed by Carl Danielson
Violence Design by Matt Arnold

October 21 – 29, 2016
Arlington Center for the Arts
41 Foster Street Arlington, MA
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Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Arlington, MA) In a world where a race of unkillable, honor-bound warrior bunnies roam the galaxy, there is only one bunny with the adventurous spirit of Luke Skywalker, the might of Obi Wan Kenobi, and the sheer awesomeness of Han Solo: K’tharr.  Planet of the Warrior Bunnies is a campy sci-fi tale of what happens when one bunny stands up to the forces of evil that threaten not only his home, but also that of his truest friend (the earth psychic Krista).

This show is proof that good actors can make or break your theatrical experience.  Juliet Bowler is working every angle of her role as The Champion, evil dictator and K’Tharr’s nemesis.  No pair of ears could hide Bowler’s incredible talent. Her gentle touch with comedic timing can turn any line into an understated punch line so be ready to keep up with her no-nonsense, matter-of-fact delivery.

Neal Leaheey throws himself into the role of K’Tharr with boundless energy.  The ultimate hero, Leaheey uses every ounce of himself to portray the guts and glory of a heedlessly honorable bunny from space.  Ava Maag plays straight girl Krista, lost in this crazy lapine world.  She did the best with what she was given (which, as I am about to go into, was not much).

I think the true star of the show was Slava Tchoul as the Salt Vampire, a character who isn’t introduced as such until the second act. Tchoul is an astoundingly brilliant physical comedian and even without any lines to speak he manages to take the spotlight through sheer force of will.  He is completely invested in this wacky character, which makes his performance even more hilarious to watch. This is Tchoul’s debut role in Boston and I can’t wait to see more of what he comes up with.

Unfortunately, not even these incredible actors could save the script.  I am always wary when I see a director directing their own original work because generally it means that work hasn’t been vetted through important avenues of feedback. This piece requires more revision to its dramatic structure. The first act consisted of clunky exposition, scenes would recap something we literally just saw onstage, and missed opportunities to set up important plot items that appeared out of nowhere in the second act.  For instance: one character, a companion of the hero, is freed of service at a moment when the hero desperately needs his help.  He leaves because he (it has been made clear) is not a good guy. Moments later, he returns to get his cell phone back from the hero then immediately leaves again. Why wasn’t the cell phone planted in the first act?  This is classic Chekhov’s gun playwriting 101.

Here’s another one: in one scene, a character suddenly (and for no reason) interrupts the action to announce that she has a migraine and leaves the stage.  Even in hindsight there is actually no reason for this to have happened. These incidents, perhaps small when taken on their own, pile up and (more importantly) are symptoms of several other larger structural issues.

I will say that there were places where the scripts work. Several zippy one-liners definitely elicited laughter from the otherwise confused audience. I appreciated the playwright’s sense of humor even amidst the other troubles with this script. This story could have been told effectively, and I even think that this playwright could have told this story effectively, but it needs a strong editing hand and several years to marinate before it can be considered “performable.”

Another MAJOR problem with the production was its violence.  Readers of the blog will, by this point, recognize my sensitivity to issues of theatrical violence, but this show was over-the-top bad and downright unsafe. Actors fought onstage with PLASTIC weapons that, predictably, broke mid-show.  Actors fought onstage IN THE DARK with little light by which to see each other.  Actors executed choreography that was, in a word, reckless.The primary job of a fight director is to keep actors safe; only then can “cool stuff” happen. These actors were being asked to do things that put their physical health and safety at risk. I must emphasize the importance of seeking qualified professionals to work with when matters such as safety are on the line. You wouldn’t buy your rock climbing harness at the dollar store; you wouldn’t see the free Doctor who works out of her parents’ basement because it was “a good deal.” You get what you pay for, and in cases like this it could be a giant liability lawsuit.

Try as I might, I can’t recommend a trip to see Planet of the Warrior Bunnies.  The actors are talented and doing their best to salvage the piece, but they’re bailing out a sinking ship.  The best we can hope for is for this to go quietly into the night and for the company to rebuild next time on a stronger foundation.

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