Little girl lost

Bunny Lake is Missing

Adapted and directed by Dan Spurgeon from the novel by Evelyn Piper
Cobblestone Productions
Common Basis Theatre
750 Eighth Ave. (414-5420)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 27)
Review by David Mackler

If the title Bunny Lake is Missing means anything to you, you're either a devotee of obscure movies circa 1965 or a fan of mysteries from the late '50s. Dan Spurgeon's stage adaptation and direction of the book by Evelyn Piper does a fairly good job generating suspense, which is quite an achievement in light of an unsympathetic main character, and a set that, well, let's just call it under-funded.

Nobody believes Diana Lake's story about her missing daughter, and her story does have more holes than verifiable facts. She's new in town and can't seem to offer any evidence that the child exists. Even though the plot takes place now (a cell phone makes an appearance), there are vestiges of its 1950s source material -- it takes forever for someone to ask for a photograph, something every mother who listened to news broadcasts this past summer would have handy. But with a suspense mystery, it's often best to go with the information that's given, and try to stay one step ahead. So it's certainly not an element in her favor that she can offer nothing more than a description of the dress her daughter was wearing (yellow, with bunnies on it of course). Many of the authorial manipulations are adept, leading the audience to one conclusion after another, each plausible, each based on a rudimentary understanding of psychology, 1950s-style. But as each conclusion is also reached by other characters, it is vehemently denied by the protagonist.

Yet at the same time there are too many clues about what's going on, and not enough. In spite of the multitude of red herrings, this is a mystery masquerading as a character drama. As the mother, Harmony Vanlue Tanguay walked an amazingly thin line, being sympathetic even as the character is pretty much a one-note hysteric. Two hours of an overwrought woman is hard for an audience to work with.

But the heart of Bunny Lake isn't Bunny, her mother, the suspicious psychiatrist (Joachim M. Wiese), or the police lieutenant who draws the only logical conclusions he can (Sonny King). No, the emotional center is a character merely identified as Woman, who comes on between scenes and tells the story of her own child, a teenage boy named Sascha. This story intersects with the plot of the missing girl, and the counterpoint gives weight and depth to the other story -- and not least because of the rending performance of T.K. Lumley. She's burdened with a Russian accent, but her concern, confusion, and conflict clearly register as she relates her increasingly sorrowful tale.

As far as the mystery of Bunny Lake goes, of course it's the information casually tossed into a conversation that has the most importance, as well as the ability to interpret the actions of characters who are talked about but remain unseen. These characters most likely had their own days in the sun in both book and movie, but if pruning was required to keep the play wieldy, then Woman's presence is good compensation.

The music, courtesy Philip Glass, was otherworldly and a little spooky; there was a good lighting effect (Mark Manne) of two people talking in silhouette behind a window. The set was flats painted gray, which occasionally had bits of furniture in front of it (Daniel Patterson and Christopher Starnes). Except for the mother (who was in beige and tan and looking rather pallid) the costumes (Foye Dashiell) were also mostly in shades of black and gray. Could be this reflected the fact that the film version (directed by Otto Preminger in his decline) was in black-and-white -- but since a program note states unequivocally that "No one involved with this production has ever seen the movie. Cross our hearts and hope to die," one can only surmise.

(Also featuring Tracey Renee Mathis, Simona Berman, Kate Searcy, Kelly Hornachek, Joe Pirolli, Chrisopher Starnes.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 0
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 David Mackler