By Alex Miller
S.M. Kobayashi, a young woman who resembles a blend between Devon Aoki and Aubrey Plaza, enters the space. A video of two spinning discs is projected overhead. Ms. Kobayashi is decked all in white, except for her shoes.
She produces a red‑boxed wire recorder from underneath the table, and the show begins. Michał Dudek’s beautiful ring‑shaped table design claims most of the space. The patrons’ chairs are placed strategically around the circle to give a perfect view no matter the angle.
“Say Something Bunny” is the story of several real families whose lives are forever immortalized via a wire strip containing hundreds of hours of their conversations. The wire recorder doesn’t have great sound, and the overlapping voices are nearly impossible to decipher. Luckily for us, Ms. Kobayashi has listened to the recording thousands of times. She casts the audience as main characters and “understudies” (I was one), to speak the text simultaneously with the recording. We are given a fairly thick beige‑tinted screenplay with which to track each family member’s lines. And it comes in handy.
At various times, Ms. Kobayashi pauses the playback in order to clarify something, or address the family members. “Don’t you want to say something, anything?” “What are they saying? Where are they from?” She directs the play within the play, and we are actors who must obey her stage directions. This was enjoyable.
Because we cannot see any of the family members, we must make do with their voices, however difficult to understand. It’s funny to discover our impressions of the characters change, and to learn that some of the people are not in fact people at all, as in the case of Patsy the dog.
The owner of the wire record was David. As we are introduced to the characters one by one (David, 16; Larry, 13; Juliet, 39; George, Sidney, Stella, Bunny (after whom the play is named), etc.), it becomes clear that Ms. Kobayashi’s task was gargantuan. She impersonates Bunny dressed in a hilarious red sweater and wig, as she looks up at a black‑and‑white GoPro set in real time. Ms. Kobayashi flawlessly fits the roles of so many people she had never actually met.
In a screened advertisement for Chesterfield Cigarettes, Ms. Kobayashi appears as an off‑screen addition to the onscreen singers. Included in the screenplay is an illustrated insert of a woman posing seductively, representing the oft sexualized, exploitative nature of the ads of that time.
A panoply of songs from the era is a nice mood‑setter, and further immerses the audience in a feel for the time period. “Shrimp Boats,” recorded by Jo Stafford for Capitol Records in 1952. “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” “Fanny,” from the musical of the same name has a fantastic promotional story. You’ve got to see it to believe it.
Bartosz Gawdzik’s art design is a thing of wonder: endearing, minimalist animation that seems based on the physics of ragdolls and string puppets, wherein the character’s arms and legs keep moving after its torso has already stopped.
An awe‑inspiring segment of the play lays out a connection between the family and Mickey Katz, Jennifer Grey, Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, in an astonishing six degrees of separation setup.
Props and photos are illustrated in the screenplay and identified by titles like “Exhibit 1‑16,” as though they are courtroom evidence. Census data, wages, and social security numbers are shown. Page numbers, written dialogue and videos are also displayed on little iPhone‑like devices affixed to music stands that hold up our screenplays.
A deep voice with a Long Island accent often interrupts Ms. Kobayashi, the video projections, and the family’s goings on, to describe the exhibits. We later learn that the voice belongs to the present‑day Larry, a man in his late‑60s to mid‑70s.
We learn that David ultimately became a somewhat successful playwright, music arranger, and pornography producer/director. His family’s objections to his career eventually estranged him from them. George, the father, died from a heart attack, and his wife remarried.
At a certain point, the spectacle does become fatiguing. From the photos and slides projected onto the screen, to the reading of the script that coincides with the words we hear on the recording (which, indeed, is a godsend because I have no idea how this mishmash of voices could have been deciphered), to Ms. Kobayashi’s interjections, the play’s overall mode seems to be distraction. Overstimulation is a constant presence.
It is impressive that Ms. Kobayashi became so invested in a family she knew only through a wire recorder purchased at an estate sale. She retraced the family’s history by visiting gravestones, boarding schools, and former addresses. Her achievement is beyond monumental. In the end, when the Dixie Cups’ “Iko, Iko” played, there was a sense of relief and fulfillment. We made it to the end, and the reward, which I will not spoil here, brought tears to my eyes.
You should see this show. Not just for the brilliance of A.S.M. Kobayashi, but also for a beautifully crafted story that shows us the importance and far‑reaching influence of the life of an average person. Even the most mundane events in our lives have significance, and this point is explored, albeit somewhat heavy‑handedly. Doubtlessly the artists involved are creative geniuses. However, there are times when creativity needs to be used economically, so as not to overwhelm an audience that needs to devour every piece of movement, structure, and snippet of sound to fully appreciate such an ambitious undertaking. It truly is something to be seen and heard. It is a long event at 130 minutes, filled with a bombardment of the senses, but one with worthwhile payoff.
“Say Something Bunny”
Written, Performed, Co-Produced, Researched, and Co-Authored by Alison S.M. Kobayashi
Director: Alison S.M. Kobayashi
Co-Producer: Christopher Allen
Art Design: Bartosz Gawdzik
Graphic Design: Michał Dudek
March 30, 2019, 7:30PM – currently playing!
Photo: courtesy of the production
Undo Project Space
511 West 20th Street, 2nd Floor
New York City
ALEX MILLER, a Chicago native, has been a professional writer and editor for 6 years. He joined the Navy in 2004, and served for four years in such places as Haiti, Iraq, and Somalia. He has a degree in Public Engagement from The New School, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Forbes, The New York Daily News, and QZ, among others. He lives in Harlem.