Bunnies Doing what Bunnies Do Best: Pairing Up

This weekend is my wife’s birthday weekend. So a few weeks ago, I brought up a list of shows and concerts that were happening this weekend, and let her pick what she wanted. One of the shows she picked was something called “Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies“. Now, as it happened I had received mail on the show earlier in the week and based on the description therein, had been intrigued. So I got tickets via Goldstar, and last night found us at the Arena Stage in Hollywood watching a bunch of fluffy bunnies.

Well, OK, so they weren’t really bunnies. Nor were they fluffy bunnies.

So what is this play about, if it isn’t about bunnies? It is billed by Goldstar as a “Romantic Comedy”. Another site refers to it as an “upbeat comedy of sexual politics”. In other places it is referred to as a risque comedy, and given the “parental advisory”, you walk in thinking you’re going to see sex continually happening, so you better leave the children at home and the horses in the street, because it will surely scar and scare them. Even as the show opens one might think this, for the first scene is of a guy and a girl getting together, and within 3 minutes, she has him going down on her.

But that’s not what “Fluffy Bunnies” is about. Especially during the first act, you might think “Fluffy Bunnies” is a stage version of Cheers, How I Met Your Mother, or any of the numerous other sets of TV sitcoms where a bunch of friends sit in a bar or restaurant and comment on the sexual and dating foibles. Certainly this play does have that. The play does concern a central group of four friends: Tommy, Nick, “Baby Boy,” and Jennifer (“Re”), sitting in a bar, talking about their dating problems. “Baby Boy” is sweet and innocent and is looking for something, but he doesn’t know what… but it isn’t meaningless sex. Nick also has opportunity for meaningless sex and booty calls, but is obsessed with figuring  the meaning of his dream about an lamp looking for the right electrical outlet. Tommy, on the other hand, is obsessed with figuring out whether Re is a virgin, because of his belief that all women are either virgins or whores. Gee, writing this out does sound like How I Met Your Mother, doesn’t it?

But there is a big difference. Characters in TV sitcoms generally stay static: this is what permits you to watch episode #1 or #1000 and see the same characters you love. In live theatre, characters exhibit growth. So if I was to compare this to anything, a more apt comparison is I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. The underlying question in this play is: How do we make relationships that are more than superficial? What do we need to change, in ourselves, to do this? This is answered in the second act, where the point is made that to have a real relationship, you need to know and care about the other person in the relationship, not just yourself. You need to stop talking about yourself, and learn about your partner. In doing this, this show makes a significant point for the “me” generation of the 1980s and 1990s: it is not just about you. Relationships are about each person caring about the other person, and knowing them. That’s the growth demonstrated in this show; when the characters take the time to actually learn about someone else, they actually find what that for which they were searching. That is also why, ultimately, this show has succeeded: because of this deeper meaning, it is more than a fluffy bar comedy. It uses the fluffy bar comedy to demonstrate growth.

But this is a comedy. And as a comedy, it works reasonably well. It is stuffed full of dialogue — think Aaron Sorkin or Moonlighting — and relationship or sexual humor. However, it isn’t a continuous rattling off of jokes ala Neil Simon, and it isn’t a sitcom where the humor comes from watching the reaction to those jokes.  The director and author, Matt Chaffee (FB), also does a good job of not creating charactures on stage: he brings out from his actors the real personalities of these characters, and they seem like real people you could get along with on the street (well, perhaps not Tom… he’s a bit annoying). The other thing that this play is not is dated. Although it had a long run in LA around 10 years ago, the subject and the performances remain fresh and delightful.

Let’s talk about these performances. Someone — most likely the director (Chaffee (FB)) or the producer (Drew Brody (FB), of the Infinite Monkey Project) — came up with the interesting idea of double-casting every role in the show. Each night of the show, there is a different permutation of actors in each of the 8 different roles (and as they do under 256 performances, no combination is repeated). So what I saw won’t be what you see. This also makes the show more fun for the actors, as they get to play and have fun and watch for different reactions they haven’t gotten before. This fun comes across to the audience: the actors have fun, and the audience has fun watching them have fun. (and the fun continues afterwards, as the producer invited both actors and audience to the bar across the street after the show to continue the fun!).

The combination that we saw was excellent. As Jennifer (“Re”), Lynsey Harris (FB) had an infectuous personality and style that made you instantly like her; she was easygoing and just inhabited her character. She was perhaps my favorite character in the piece. Also fun to watch were Stephen Pollack (FB) as “Baby Boy” and Dean Cates (FB) as Nick. Pollack gave off a charming naivete, and was particularly fun to watch in his interactions with Amy Sanders (FB)’ Allison. Cates’ Nick was a bit more obsessed with wanting something; his standout scene was when he needed to move a box continually around the stage. In your head, you knew this prop box was likely very light, but his performance made it appear so heavy and awkward you wanted to get up on stage and help him. Rounding out the lead characters was Mike Duff  as Tom, who seemed to be more of a commentator, not looking for a relationship of his own.

In smaller roles were four ladies who portrayed the primary girlfriends and dates. The first one to appear is Samantha Valdellon (FB) as Yvonne, a tiny little thing dating “Baby Boy”. You don’t get to know her character that well, but she is fun to watch (especially at the beginning of the 2nd act, where she has fun with the audience). Next we meet Stephanie Wilcox (FB)’s Tessa, the booty-call obsessed young women who doesn’t know what to make of Nick’s talkative nature. The third girlfriend (who also has some smaller unnamed roles) is the aforementioned Amy Sanders (FB)’s Allison. This character was really fun to watch, both from her demeanor and how she stayed in character even when the focus was not on her. Lastly, there was Bobbi Berkmen (FB)’s Yvonne. She came off a little stiff to me, although I think that was how the character was being interpreted. Still, she had some wonderful moments in her second interaction with Nick.

However, as I noted, this play is double-cast, so you will not see the combination I saw. Other actors in this piece (who you may meet in the lobby) are Karolin Luna (FB) (Yvonne), Kip Garwood (FB) (Baby Boy), Lyndsey Lantz (FB) (Re), Joey Russo (FB) (Tommy), Matthew Hannon (FB) (Nick), Cynthia Murell (FB) (Tessa), Steffinnie Phrommany (FB) (Lyndsay), and Meredith Giangrande (FB) (Allison).

The scenes in this play are structured a bit odd, in that they take place in various locations (apartments, balconies, restaurants), but the main actors in these locations interact with their friends at the bar who are commenting on the action. This can get a bit confusing. It isn’t helped by the set, which is relatively simple and consists mostly of hints of locations, which various images of daisies or bunnies that are simply drawn. Certainly those images do not enhance the set (they don’t have any significance), but I’m not sure whether a realistic set would clarify things either. Still, although the current set (supposedly constructed by the director, Matt Chaffee (FB)) suffices, if the set is ever redone, thought should be given to finding a way to make the locations and the cross interactions clearer. One thing helping the set is the lighting, which serves to focus the audience’s attention well on the significant actions to watch (lighting design is uncredited in the program, but another website clarifies was done by the producer, Drew Brody (FB)). No credit is given for sound or stage management, so those uncredited individuals must toil namelessly.

Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies” was produced by Drew Brody of the Infinite Monkeys Project, who I’ll note did a great introduction to the show and was quite a bit of fun to talk to during intermission and at the after-show social event.

Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies” continues at the Arena Stage in Hollywood (behind the Egyptian Theater) through July 28; it is worth seeing. It may move after that and resurface somewhere in September, according to the producer. Tickets are available at the door, through their website, LA Stage Alliance, Plays411, or through Goldstar.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: This weekend is my wife’s birthday weekend, and we have one more show to see:  tonight we’re going to CSUN to see the OperaWorks production of “Non-Boring Original Opera, which is an improvised original 3-act opera weaving well-known arias and improvised dialogue into a new storyline. (if you would like to meet us at these shows and wish her Happy Birthday, please join us — dinner is at Peru’s Taste at 530p).  The last weekend in July brings “Meet Me In St. Louis” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. August has a bit less, as we’re going to have some vacation days and will be taking Erin to start UC Berkeley. We’ve only got two shows scheduled: “Memphis” at the Pantages at the beginning of the month, and Play Dates” at REP East at the end of the month. As an aside: we will be vacationing in Palm Springs, so if anyone knows of live theatre going on there in August, let me know. In September theatre activity resumes, beginning with “Blame It On Beckett” at the Colony Theatre on September 1 and “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” at REP East on September 29. I”m also looking into “Silence: The Musical” at the Hayworth Theatre, which starts September 8 and runs through December, and Xanadu” at DOMA, which starts September 7 and runs for about 3 weeks. October brings some traveling for family: the Cal Parents Weekend at UCB (looking less likely now), and the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno. It will also bring “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing) and a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11-12). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).



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