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cunnicularii

A fantasy that deals with many of the adjustments in attitudes and perspectives encountered by new parents

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Camille Umoff and Juan Arturo in a scene from Sophie McIntosh’s “cunnicularii” at Alchemical Studios (Photo credit: Nina Goodheart Photography)

Suppose for a moment that Beatrix Potter’s “Peter Rabbit” existed as a rabbit-person, and suppose he had human parents. Such a story would be both fantastical and intriguing. Now, imagine further that such an event happened, not in a children’s book from over 100 years ago but today, in this time, but with mature, adult themes, telling a story of the psychosocial impact that such an event would have on everyone involved, especially the mother.

cunnicularii, beautifully written by Sophie McIntosh and sensitively directed by Nina Goodheart, is a fantasy that deals with many of the adjustments in attitudes and perspectives encountered by new parents. It is a fable focusing on the sometimes overwhelming physical and emotional issues faced by mothers on their first time into the world of motherhood. It is a beautifully realized drama, both funny and serious. If you enjoy good theater, with solid acting, it will be very much worth the effort to see this production. It will only be around for a short time, so make the time to see it.

Mary is the woman who gives birth to a rabbit. Camille Umoff solidly inhabits this character, infusing her with the wonder, fear, emotional confusion, and pain new mothers frequently encounter. She gives a moving performance from start to finish with some well-executed choreographic interludes as dream sequences.

Camille Umoff and Jen Anaya in a scene from Sophie McIntosh’s “cunnicularii” at Alchemical Studios (Photo credit: Nina Goodheart Photography)

The play begins with a prologue of green light alternating between spots and filling the performance area with pale green. As this prologue draws to a close, Mary climbs into bed next to her husband, Howard, who is played beautifully by Juan Arturo. Mary begins speaking to her unborn baby, waking Howard in the process. It is a moment that reveals some of the anxiety faced by a woman on the verge of becoming a mother. It also indicates a father-to-be trying to be supportive without fully understanding the emotional roller-coaster a woman is on during her pregnancy.

HOWARD

everything okay?

MARY

I’m not sure she’s kicking

HOWARD

always kicking

MARY

more than she should, though

definitely more than normal feel

And then:

MARY

it’s a lot, isn’t it?

do you think there’s something wrong?

HOWARD

maybe she’s just anxious to be out

MARY

or what if she’s trying to tell me something?

what if she’s hurting?

what if she’s dying?

Benjamin Milliken and Camille Umoff in a scene from Sophie McIntosh’s “cunnicularii” at Alchemical Studios (Photo credit: Nina Goodheart Photography)

This opening establishes the dynamics of what is to follow throughout the show. The fears about the outcome of the pregnancy and the confusing crash of emotions become more magnified after the birth, accurately reflecting the real-world experiences of new mothers. Mary goes into labor and gives birth to a baby girl rabbit.

In this story, the Doctor, effectively played by Benjamin Milliken, rushes from the delivery room after the birth. Later, when Mary asks about her baby girl and why she cannot see her, the Doctor says everything is fine. They are just running some additional tests. In this scene and later, Milliken shows the Doctor’s superficial connection with his patient, expressing “textbook” empathy rather than a proper understanding or even an interest in thoroughly understanding the emotional needs of his patient. At the six-week checkup, the action brings this disconnection to life when Mary tries to describe her non-physical discomfort.

DOCTOR

are you experiencing pain?

MARY

no, well, yes

but what’s really bothering me is more of an

an emotional disturbance

or

or

DOCTOR

a hormonal imbalance

Juan Arturo and Camille Umoff in a scene from Sophie McIntosh’s “cunnicularii” at Alchemical Studios (Photo credit: Nina Goodheart Photography)

Howard has been able to make a connection with his baby-girl rabbit daughter Josephine in ways that still elude Mary. When Howard’s mother, Gladys, enters the story, his connection with Josephine becomes more apparent. Gladys’ reaction to the reality that her granddaughter is a rabbit quickly moves from judgmental to accepting. Jen Anaya perfectly embodies Gladys with all the attitudes and behaviors one might expect from a mother-in-law and first-time grandmother. Her performance comes perilously close to cliché at times, but she always manages to surprise with a look, movement, or comment that keeps the character grounded and believable. There is one issue I have with the characterization of Gladys near the end of the play, where she shifts from being a critical mother towards Howard to suddenly accepting. It is an issue with the script and direction, not the performance.

Another character adds a layer to the acceptance of a rabbit child Greg is the next-door neighbor and is an expectant father of twins. Milliken seamlessly shifts from the Doctor to Greg, making the character believable as the affable neighbor. When Greg discovers that the “child” Howard is carrying is a rabbit, he is momentarily taken aback but then charmed by seeing Josephine. The conversation that follows shows that the two men accept Josephine’s reality and they continue chatting about lawnmowers and outdoor grills. Greg talks about having a barbecue after his children are born. A part of that conversation reveals Howard’s commitment to Josephine when he says he may try being a vegetarian in support of his daughter.

The creative team does an extraordinary job with what is basically a stark, white room. The lighting design by Paige Seber adds definition to the space and beautifully underscores and transforms the scenes, infusing them with an extension of the emotions being expressed. Max Van’s sound design is a solid complement to the lighting, adding to the dramatic impact of the action. The sets and props by Evan Johnson are perfectly attuned to the story’s performance space and critical elements. Saawan Tiwari’s costume design rounds out the definition of the characters with a minimum of changes.

cunnicularii (through July 13, 2024)

Good Apples Collective and Esmé Maria Ng

Alchemical Studios, 50 W. 17th St, 12th floor, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit https://www.tickettailor.com/events/goodapplescollective1/1211068

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission

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About Scotty Bennett (86 Articles)
Scotty Bennett is a retired businessman who has worn many hats in his life, the latest of which is theater critic. For the last twelve years he has been a theater critic and is currently the treasurer of the American Theatre Critics Association and a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He has been in and around the entertainment business for most of his life. He has been an actor, director, and stage hand. He has done lighting, sound design, and set building. He was a radio disk jockey and, while in college ran a television studio and he even knows how to run a 35mm arc lamp projector.

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