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A CurtainUp Review
Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Romantic Comedy
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.