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A CurtainUp Review
Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Romantic Comedy
You're not comfortable?— Alan
Not really.— Gilda
With what?—Alan
With the being funny part of my life.
— Gilda What are you saying?
— Alan
I'm saying that comedy is too desperate. It's about going to any extreme— putting on a wig, making a funny face, crashing into walls—just to get people to love you and I wish I didn't need to do that.— Gilda
bBnny Bunny
Leah Walton and Matt Pfeiffer
In Bunny Bunny, a memory play and almost love story, Alan Zweibel, a TV writer and consulting producer, dramatizes and shares the story of his life & times with late comedienne Gilda Radner. The ever-present shadow of Gilda's impending death hangs over this mildly funny work that exposes seams and struggles behind her funny lady persona. 1812 Production's Artistic Director, Jennifer Childs, says, "It's comic lights like Gilda and whip-smart comic writers like Alan Zweibel who inspire the comedy we make here at 1812."

Noah Herman (who recently directed in Philadelphia's new One Minute Play Festival), directs. Leah Walton, an excellent actress and singer, handles the difficult Gilda role well. She misses Gilda's madcap aspect. But then, she's not Gilda.

Matt Pfeiffer delivers a comfortable performance as writer Alan Zweibel. An actor who taps into the fountainhead of authenticity, Pfeiffer knows how to do true, lame and vulnerable.

Listed as "Ensemble," utility player Matt Tallman invests each of his characters with a distinct personality: Several waiters and weird dates, a director, cameraman, Sikh taxi driver, girlfriend in distress, and maybe a dozen other people, get a fleeting moment of stage time. Tallman's quick, almost gratuitous roles sometimes serve as scene change glue and always provide light comic relief. Arguably, they're the funniest part of the show.

However, going-for-funny, though important, wasn't playwright Zweibel's top priority. This is no laff riot. Comic elements are manipulated in service to 'heartwarming', which is prized over comedy here. Although also dealing with serious issues, he doesn't plumb heavy-duty depths. That tissue pack you brought will not be necessary.

The bare bones set design in the Independence Studio 3's very small performance space is smart and versatile enough to support the action. Yet it doesn't exploit the possibilities of what a set can add to a production.

In order to appreciate the performance, it goes a long way if you remember Gilda, who died in the spring of 1989. The older audience at this performance clearly recalls watching her on SNL in the early days. Whispered comments are often heard: "She's talking about Gene Wilder," or "He wrote for Gary Shandling," and so forth. How different is this experience for young audiences who don't know Gilda's work, who didn't wait for the TV shows each week, or catch the 1997 Bunny Bunny at the Lortel in NYC? Does the play work for them as a story about a distant historical figure from the previous century? There may be one advantage for newer audiences: They may not long for a replication of the real Gilda.

This television writer turned playwright provides a pleasant evening's entertainment but also a missed opportunity to go bolder and deeper than TV. Like a play on medication that smoothes things out by taking away the highs and the lows, Bunny Bunny hits a nice even keel in the middle range.

Bunny Bunny by Alan Zweibel
Directed by Noah Herman

Cast: Leah Walton, Matt Pfeiffer, Matt Tallman
Scenic Design: Lance Kniskern
Lighting Design: J. Dominic Chacon
Costume Design: Katherine Fritz
Sound Design: Alex Bechtel
Sept 19-Oct 27, 2013
2 hours including one 15 minute intermission
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 09/26/13 performance. 1812 Productions at Walnut Street Theater's Independence Studio on 3.
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