Toad City Productions at the Back Door Theatre, 43rd & Hawthorne behind Common Grounds, 736-1027, Fri-Sat 9 pm, through Aug 14, $10-12
I n imagining the whitebread suburbs of the United States, it's tempting to make gross generalizations, to hack the nuclear family into sitcom archetypes. However, like low-flying airplanes, those mired in stereotypical suburban life are easy targets. The zombie denizens of the strip mall, paralyzed by botox, mad cow disease, and pharmaceuticals are destined to be teased by those more highfalutin, and one can't help but feel a little sorry them. Though an ambitious son or daughter may escape to pursue their muse, the prodigal return is inevitable, if not in life than in art.
In Gross Generalizations (The Bunny Play), young playwright James Sandlin Ashby and his compatriots from Reed's undergraduate theater program have created a meditation on suburban family life at the end of the Great 20th Century. The play's Reagan-era design (arguably the most successful turn of the work, by Paul Simkowski) seems influenced by the cut-and-paste surrealism of Dead Kennedys album covers and the Church of the SubGenius. The result is an alternate reality where characters shift from cartoonish mugging to zombie catatonia with little pause. The eponymous Bunny (C. Wright Cronin) is our guide through an often fragmented, nonlinear narrative. Cronin's Bunny is clearly a descendent of that Groucho Marx of cottontails, Bugs Bunny. Cronin's Bunny, however, more closely resembles a cross between the schizophrenic demon rabbit of Donnie Darko's universe and the maniacal Trix cereal rabbit, teasing and tempting his human subjects to all manner of cruelty and violence.
The Bunny plays the role of psychic houseguest in the home of mother Rebecca (Claire Foster), father Tom (Devon Granmo) and son Jack (Toad City's multitalented Matthew Combs). Somewhere inside the rather rigorous text is a connection between consumerism and family ties, between materialism and violence. If it sounds like a little much, it is, and while some sequences offer some acerbic wit (particularly those dealing with pastoral painter cum shopping mall cult leader Thomas Kincaid), Ashby falls victim to writing as therapy. The playwright ends up taking on the role of Oedipus offstage, simultaneously sucking his thumb, masturbating, and rubbing his teary eyes. TOUSSAINT PERRAULT