At the library where I work, the children’s department bulletin board currently asks “What’s your favorite boook?” and is covered in white paper ghosts with kids’ favorite books written on them. Next to my name, you’ll find the seasonally appropriate choice Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe, the fun and slightly spooky story of a cat and dog who suspect that their family’s latest addition may be more sinister than he seems.
Bunnicula has been a favorite of mine for many years, and its many sequels and spin-off series, Bunnicula and Friends, are evidence of its popular among its target demographic. This children’s classic has been adapted into a play by James Sie and is being produced by Lifeline Theatre, just in time for Halloween.
The story opens with Harold, the family dog, introducing the audience to the family he lives with, which consists of a mother, father, two kids, Harold, and a paranoid book-loving cat named Chester (names changed to protect the identity of those involved, of course). The night in question, the family returns from a screening of Dracula with an accidental find: a sweet black-and-white bunny, in the form of a cuddly-looking puppet designed by Noah Ginex. But when the family’s vegetables start turning up white, Chester’s overactive imagination kicks into overdrive, and she begins investigating the rabbit with the reluctant help of Harold, who’s more interested in begging for bacon than vanquishing evil.
Sie’s script does a great job of condensing the story to a brief fifty-minute production without losing any of its essential elements, making it an excellent, kid-friendly retelling of the novel. In addition, the show is rife with all-ages humor; even in its most serious moments, the story is never so heavy it cannot be laughed at, but the jokes are tasteful and universal enough that both the kids and adults in the audience can enjoy them.
Nick Druzbanski is utterly charming as Harold, bringing a sweet earnestness and excellent sense of comedic timing to the role that captures the essence of the gentle narrator. And Carisa Gonzalez mimics the mannerisms of a cat magnificently, providing an uptight foil to Harold’s casual, relaxed nature. Another fun addition to the show is the music, written by Doug Wood and sung a capella by the actors. Although the cast is small, Wood is able to achieve some lovely harmonies on the simple, catchy melodies that drive the show. Sound design by Eric Backus captures well the eerie violin music and sometimes cartoonish sound effects that accompany Bunnicula’s antics.
Scenic design by Michelle Lilly is elegant and just a little spooky, clean and modernist while still reminiscent of a haunted forest. Excellent use is made of shadows on the walls, both for storytelling and aesthetic purposes.
Bunnicula is a timeless tale of a strange little bunny who creates a big fuss. It’s a story I keep recommending to kids in its book form, and it’s a story I now recommend to you in its play form. Bunnicula is a spooky, funny story for all ages.
Location: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave
Dates: Saturday, October 20 – Sunday, November 25, 2018
Times: Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., with an added autism/sensory-friendly performance on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 3 p.m.
Tickets: Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at the Lifeline Theatre Box Office, 773.761.4477, or by visiting the Lifeline Theatre website
All photos by Suzanne Plunkett.