Old photographs, dusty VHS tapes, and newspaper clippings: though these objects might seem like mundane clutter, there is some truth to the old adage that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Indeed, there is a distinct thrill that accompanies the discovery of a particularly poignant piece of nostalgia, and it is this curious excitement upon which Say Something Bunny!, an innovative piece of theater by Alison S.M. Kobayashi and UnionDocs, thrives.
The story begins with Kobayashi’s chance inheritance of an old wire recorder device and several recordings, which contain snippets of cocktail chitchat and holiday banter. Using these recordings as its source material, Say Something Bunny! weaves a fascinating theatrical tapestry of universal human connection, mid-century American nostalgia, and hilariously dated humor.
The history of the wire recorder is a curious one. Though they are now obsolete, wire recorders were popular purveyors of parlor tricks during the fifties. Arthur Miller fans might recall the wire recorder owned by Willy Loman’s boss in Death of a Salesman—shrouded in symbolism, the machine represented the wealth, status, and savviness that Loman so desperately wanted for himself. Kobayashi’s wire recorder holds a different sort of weightiness in that, at first, she has no idea where it came from, who it belonged to, and why it is even interesting in the first place. It is, in other words, a box of questions. Who are the people in this recording? What kind of lives did they lead? What was going on in the world at the time? And of course: why won’t Bunny just say something?
Members of the audience, who are seated both around a circular central table and at the perimeter of the room, are assigned characters who are identified as speakers on the recording as the play progresses. The show is partially interactive in that each audience member has a specified identity, but at the same time no one is pressured to perform or contribute significantly.
Possessed of the recording elements, Kobayashi becomes a sort of amateur detective and armchair genealogist. The people in her audio recordings start out as an indistinguishable group of complete strangers, but throughout the show she gives them life and vibrancy via her detective work. Part of the thrill is watching Kobayashi take a popular song or sports game reference and use it as evidence to narrow down the time and location of the mysterious partygoers in the recording—what they were celebrating, and who these midcentury Americans were. Beyond this teaser of an introduction, the less one knows about the content of Say Something Bunny!, the better.
It is safe to say that Say Something Bunny! is a theatrical oddity on a few counts. First, the production resists categorization into any existing genre. Nonetheless, Kobayashi keeps the show running tightly, never missing a cue nor letting silences become awkward. Second, Kobayashi’s stage presence is truly unique. Her performance style varies between degrees of presentational: at times she seems as if she’s an ingénue in a Broadway musical; at others, she seems like a spunky young academic delivering a PowerPoint presentation on an archaic topic.
And finally, while Say Something Bunny! is multimedia by design, the production’s slick technology takes a backseat to the human interest at its forefront. This is largely because the execution of the production’s numerous projections and sound cues is almost flawless. It is a real wonder to see technology work so seamlessly to enhance a theatrical experience rather than take center stage as a gimmick. Overall, Say Something Bunny! is a wildly engaging experience unlike any other.
Say Something Bunny! is recommended for mature audiences only and runs through June 2019 at the UNDO Project Space in Chelsea (511 West 20th St., 2nd Floor, next to the High Line). Tickets start at $59 and may be purchased at saysomethingbunny.com.