Matthew A. Sprosty’s world premiere of Malicious Bunny contains an amazing scene. Near the end of Act One, blue collar worker Jonathan (Markus Taylor) visits the very swank, expensive apartment of his wife Angela’s (Heidi-Marie Ferren) parents. Mr. and Mrs. Parsby (Larry Gilman and Jennifer Edwards) pretty clearly despise their son-in-law. They certainly have no desire to look at him, much less talk with him. Reasons why—apart from the snobbery of money—emerge as Jonathan, whose visit clearly surprises them, insists on staying. What the parents don’t realize is that Angela is with them as well. She listens to it all via her husband’s Bluetooth, and she remains in constant communication with him.
Honestly, doesn’t that description whet your dramatic appetite, at least a bit? Because honestly, this wonderful scene eclipses everything else in the play. It plays out with tension and mystery, character and tensions emerging one after another, while the cast does a genuinely splendid job.
It also leads up to murder.
Here lies the problem. Not that we already know such is the reason for the visit (although from a technical point of view that does weaken the scene) but because the rest of the play never reaches this level. Understand—elements turn out quite interesting, even engaging, but overall the script remains uneven. Billed a dark comedy, honestly I hardly ever laughed or even grinned. Part of that must lie with the slow way scenes shifted (this remains a complaint of mine with many productions—no one wants to watch furniture being moved) but also frankly the lack of insight we receive about most of the characters. The only one who consistently seems very much alive and himself is Greg (Andrew McIntyre) whose relationship with best friend Jonathan remains the biggest unexplored mystery of the play.
Clearly, the playwright has some real talent. Ditto the cast. Director Bryan Fox shows some skill and cleverness, albeit amid some problems, but truthfully the production does not gel into a coherent experience. Given its avowed nature as a comedy, this comes down more than anything to rhythm. One can indeed shift tone and genre successfully and to great effect. But the skill to do so only shows in small flashes. Meanwhile three extremely minor characters—the Pit Boss (Nicholas Maes), Detective Grilling (Tess Kartel) and Detective Ispy (James Vallejo)—seem wasted. Honestly I could not figure a single reason for the first of the three to even be in the script! The other two come across as just weird, but purposelessly so. I like weird. But weird needs to fit. Just as a deliberately jarring note in a piece of music has to be the right jarring note and placed in just the right moment.