When we first meet Alex (Ethan Angelica) he is nervously pinging around his therapist’s office, a desperate Canadian transplant who simply wants to feel like he belongs in this town. “Some say it’s when you have your first private moment in public …” he goes on to explain, but I would offer that simply unleashing this tirade of neuroses to a therapist qualifies him for at least one click on his “True New Yorker” Punch-card.
After all, isn’t every New Yorker seeing a therapist? Well, apparently not. “Therapy is for suckers!” declares Karen (Carrie Heitman), Alex’s straight-forward, fast-talking, fast-moving girlfriend. Karen does not have a therapist, she has a Life Coach – some one to help her zero in on her mission and attain her objectives. “You need to set goals or else you drift and die!” she rails at Alex who is kind, “nice” but a bit too laid-back for his own good. Or make that HER own good. She sets out to bend Alex – an actor and mime by trade – to her will, first by insisting that after 9 weeks of dating he should move in with her, then insisting they do the Master Cleanse together (If we can survive all our stuff coming out together, we can survive anything!). Alex doesn’t so much agree as get carried along on Karen’s tidal wave of Goals and Lemon Juice.
At an audition he meets Barbara (Mel House) who’s another aggressive woman, but seems to focus less of her aggression on him in particular, which is a subtle but welcome change. A strange but intense relationship with Barbara ensues, but not without moments where he still explores his feelings for Karen.
In between juggling the women in his life Alex continues to visit his somewhat unconventional therapist, Dr. Bob (Joel Nagle) whose methods of treatment include taking Alex to a bar (to instruct him on how to pick up women), and assigning public defecation as homework (see “first private moment in public” for context). Throughout it all Alex continues to struggle with feeling out of place, misunderstood, left out, undervalued, and unappreciated. Ultimately, however, Alex finds himself on Rabbit Island – literally and then figuratively – and while some things still continue to confound him he begins to realize that there’s a place for him in this life he’s creating for himself.
Rabbit Island is first and foremost a comedy … there is no way to mistake this as you file into the theatre and are greeted by the pre-show performers (Phineas T. Haricot and Mariko Iwasa) who have either hailed you warmly as they directed you to your seat, or (if you’re a little late) have already taken the stage and are performing a physical comedy routine that is almost too beautifully executed to be called clowning, but is too funny to be anything else.
The duo later become an inside-out, more colorful version of Kuroko; rather than attempting to blend in, they purposely stand out. They do all the heavy lifting in terms of re-configuring the set, pinch-hitting as extras when needed, and adding a bit of up-stage comedy by turning themselves into props such as framed certificates and lamps. It’s both a light touch as well as a constant reminder that this is all in good fun.
That’s an important reminder, for there are moments when Rabbit Island tackles weighty issues. Director Aimee Todoroff understands this; by continually framing each scene with the purest of human emotions she allows elements of humor to reach a level of absurdity that never topples over into senseless foolishness.
The cast of four is powerful; each embodying complex characters and finding the dualities so that the audience is able to both identify with them as well as inwardly breathe a sigh of relief at how different we are (one would hope). Ethan Angelica’s Alex is hapless and malleable but his core of inner strength is never far from reach. When Angelica finally shares a display of his talents as a mime with the audience there’s no doubt that he has a gift for this unspoken medium and it is one of the most touching moments of the play.
Carrie Heitman’s Karen is a beautiful swirl of strong and weak, needy and independent, dominant and submissive. That Heitman can play it all so convincingly is astonishing – she truly reaches a place of raw emotion and lays bare the soul of this character. Rather than playing Karen as an overbearing harping shrew who then deflates when challenged she finds the inner core of her and elevates Karen to a much richer, complex individual.
Similarly, Mel House gives us a Barbara who is more than simply an in-your-face performance artist slash burlesque dancer slash impetuous crazy girlfriend. House gives Barbara the depth of a woman who has lived in a city that invites softer spirits to be squashed, so she has toughed up on the outside to protect what she has to offer on the inside.
And finally Dr. Bob – unethical, yes. Narcissistic? Absolutely. Duplicitous? Without a doubt. But in the hands of Joel Nagle he’s got that bad-boy charm that came with the ’70s version of Warren Beatty. Of course you know he’s bad news, but for a moment, don’t you want to try and be his headline? Nagle plays Bob without a scrap of self-doubt or apology. If you can find some room to squeeze in next to all that self-love you might get the chance to love him too. Just be ready to debase yourself.
Rabbit Island - the title – alludes to Coney Island. Come to the Kraine during this Frigid Festival and spend an hour seeing a play that has as many twists, spins, highs and lows as any ride you’ll find at the amusement park. And as you’re deposited safely on the ground later, you’ll understand why, in this town, no man is an island.
~~~Rabbit Island Company: Elephant Run District Directed by: Aimee Todoroff Feb 27, 7:30PM Mar 01, 6:00PM Mar 03, 5:30PM $16.00 The Kraine Theater