BWW Reviews: Gilda Radner Lives in BUNNY BUNNY at the Falcon
Comedienne Gilda Radner became one of the most idolized comic figures of the 70s as well as a popular tragic heroine of the 80s as she lost her battle with Ovarian cancer. Possessing an edgy brilliance that defied description, she lived passionately for every moment and won the hearts of millions. Writer Alan Zweibel, who was one of Gilda's closest friends - he created Roseanne Roseannadanna - from the beginning of her professional career to her death in 1989, penned Bunny Bunny to keep Gilda's memory alive...how lucky for us as we witness a triple threat production now onstage at the Falcon Theatre: great writing, vibrant direction from Dimitri Toscas and superb acting by a trio of artists who evoke and maintain a visceral energy that is every bit as remarkable and palpable as Gilda herself (Erin Pineda).
Gilda was genuine. She let the quirky voice and mannerisms define her without hesitation. Although, she did find comedy a pretty desperate way to make a living and often mused on why she stuck with it. Going to extremes to make people laugh and then constantly being recognized and approached in public by fans was something she loved and hated simultaneously. Being a celebrity was a double-edged sword, so, as it turns out, this lady was indeed emotionally complex. She had several eating disorders including bulemia which left their blemishes on her. Years later she found it impossible to conceive a child. She was married twice, first to a musician; her second husband was actor Gene Wilder. Even during the hardest of times, Gilda loved her friends. When a janitor in her building was at retirement age, she threw him a party and invited over 70 maintenance people in NYC as well as charwomen to make him feel important. She was that kind of person...she cared too much, and for that reason found it difficult to maintain a steady relationship with Zweibel (Brendan Hunt) whom she really and truly loved.
Zweibel constructs his play like a giant improv. Looking back at the time of her death to when they first met... he was hiding behind a potted plant, he was so fearful of producers and TV people; she was all a flutter, working the room trying to 'sell' her idea of playing Julie Andrews' parakeet. They quickly became close friends and he her lifelong writing partner. He introduced her to Diddy Doody and Roseannadanna which she played to humongous success on Saturday Night Live. The second act picks up after SNL with Gilda's Broadway show and her eventual move to Hollywood and film... and her devastating illness. Zweibel got married to a production assistant on SNL at the encouragement of Radner. He was nuts about her, but she put a plug in their relationship, and years later, toward the end of her life, she questions, "Why didn't we get married?" Sometimes, when two people are perfect for each other, it just doesn't work out the way they hoped, but they were there for each other at every twist and turn. Zweibel even gave blood to help Gilda during her final days.
Under Dimitri Toscas' sterling direction, the actors have an energy, a rhythm that moves electrically from moment to moment making the characters totally honest and likeable. Pineda is phenomenal. After the first few minutes on stage, you forget that you are not watching Gilda Radner. Her performance is a consistent stunner. Hunt as Zweibel is also loveable and terribly funny. Tom Fonss who plays Everyone Else, including waiters, doctors, even Wilder and John Lennon, is amazing as he makes a multitude of quick exits and entrances, reappearing as a different character each time. Adam Flemming's set and projection design is just right, as the actors move chairs and tables around to suit each scene and as in one great giant improv, it all works beautifully.
For those that do not know the meaning of Bunny, Bunny, when Gilda was little, she would scrunch down under the bed covers, afraid of the lurking shadows and say "Bunny, Bunny" as a means of protection, and she always felt safe and secure as a result. This innocence passed on to her from her father kept her moving through life with aplomb even in her darkest hours. She was incredibly brave. Go see Bunny, Bunny. You will love the storytelling, the actors and, regardless of whether you remember her or not, you will fall in love with Gilda Radner.