nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 23, 2012
Chris Harcum's new play Rabbit Island is a quirky, funny, romantic comedy about figuring out who you are and what you want; and how to survive, given that knowledge, in the big city in the 21st century.
Let me immediately note that I am a big fan of Harcum's work, and publisher of a good bit of it. He's a smart, talented, versatile playwright, and with this new play—absolutely a departure for him—he does not let us down.
The hero of Rabbit Island is Alex, a Canadian mime living in New York City trying desperately to fit in. He faces, he thinks, all kinds of passive-aggressive discrimination, and he suffers from his "niceness." He's also trying to deal with his girlfriend, Karen; her life coach and his therapist seem to have very opposite ideas how their patients should approach things and that's a big source of tension. Later, Alex meets Barbara, a burlesque artist with a passel of issues. Will Alex choose Barbara, or Karen, or neither? Will be dump his uber-arrogant shrink Dr. Bob? Will be figure out how to be a "real New Yorker"?
All of these questions are answered, quite satisfactorily, in Rabbit Island. Though the central quandary is Alex's otherness, the play seems to me to really be about the ways that every single one of us battles with being an outsider somewhere in our life. Finding the right kind of inner toughness—one that isn't loaded down with anger or aggression or arrogance—is the challenge we all to have to contend with.
While Alex is the ostensible protagonist of Rabbit Island, all four characters grow and transform during the course of the play. They're all compelling and engaging, too; Dr. Bob, hilariously egotistical and manipulative, threatens to steal the show anytime he's around, and we wind up somehow liking him, in his way, too.
Aimee Todoroff's staging of the show is splendid. Keeping things spare and trim as the festival environment dictates, there isn't a set so much as an ambience that is constantly constructed / deconstructed / reconstructed by a pair of mimes who are on stage throughout, serving as pieces of furniture, decorations, supernumeraries, and whatever else is called for to establish location. Playwright Harcum serves as one of these mimes, along with the excellent Mariko Iwasa.
Ethan Angelica (Alex), Carrie Heitman (Karen), Mel House (Barbara), and Joel Nagle (Dr. Bob) all deliver strong, committed performances. Overall, Rabbit Island is one of the most polished, professional, and entertaining festival shows I've seen in quite some time. It is certainly going to emerge as a highlight of this year's FRIGID.