Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: Bunny Bunny

Bunny Bunny, written by Alan Zweibel, produced by 1812 Productions, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield. Directed by Noah Herman, featuring Leah Walton as Gilda Radner, Matt Pfeiffer as Alan Zweibel and Matt Tallman.

Review: Bunny Bunny


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

Long before the Manic Pixie Dream Girl--that flighty, unstable film and television trope beloved by sensitive young men, reviled by feminists--had a name, Saturday Night Live comedy writer Alan Zweibel had Gilda Radner. After the comedienne’s death from ovarian cancer, Zweibel wrote Bunny Bunny, a memoir of their almost-relationship and long friendship, and later adapted it for the stage. The show premiered at Philadelphia Theatre Company in 1997, but with this more intimate revival, 1812 Productions--a company helmed by Jennifer Childs, another very funny woman--makes a better fit.

Zweibel’s script has some issues. A longtime writer for television, his scenes are far better suited to that medium. Onstage, the setup-zinger-blackout-set change-repeat formula quickly becomes tedious, and Zweibel, despite his admiration for Gilda and her talent, seems like kind of an ironclad jerk. 

While we get a sense of what makes her tick, he’s just a regular guy joke-slinger who gets married, has kids and happens to have a very interesting friend. In what is essentially a two-person play (with a third actor, Matt Tallman, who flits in and out for incidental and unnecessary comic relief as a snooty waiter, screaming director, or one of Gilda’s new boyfriends), we need him not to necessarily match her vulnerability, but to at least meet her halfway. Of course, making people laugh is one way of diverting attention from yourself, but this sort of play depends heavily on its characters’ motivations.

Director Noah Herman wisely invests in making Leah Walton’s Gilda and Matt Pfeiffer’s Alan as human as possible. What success this production achieves is a result of Walton’s perpetually softening eyes and trembling lips, and Pfeiffer’s Everyman humility and blunt Long Island style. Everyone who wrote about Radner said she was so smart, kind, funny and open you couldn’t help falling in love with her. Walton’s performance of one of my favorite Radner bits, the song “Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals,” from her solo show, Gilda Live, recaptures enough of that magic to make you wish she stuck around long enough to tell her own story.


Playing at: Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 3, 825 Walnut St., Philadelphia. Through Sunday, Oct. 27. Tickets: $25-$40. Information: 215-592-9560 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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