The first clue that Hugh Hughes (alter-ego of Welsh performer Shon Dale-Jones) intends Story of a Rabbit to be something other than a traditional stage piece is his presence at the door to the Emmett Robinson Theatre. “Thank you for coming out tonight,” he says, shaking your hand as you enter. And then he makes tea.
Get it? It’s not that the wall between the stage and the audience in this show is either respected or broken, it’s that the wall is part of the show, to be discussed and examined explicitly, along with everything else that goes into the experience of attending a night of theater — or for that matter, living the rest of your life.
Does that sound interesting to you? Yes? Then you’re going to be talking about how inventive and charming it is for the rest of the festival. And if that premise doesn’t intrigue you, then just don’t go.
Billed as a multimedia piece about death, Story of a Rabbit is more accurately a multimedia piece about what happens when you stop looking at things in the usual way. So for starters, there’s no theatrical distance between the people on stage and the people in the seats: Hughes simply begins talking to them at the door and continues bantering with them and eventually makes some tea and then somewhere along the way the piece starts.
This by design, of course: Hughes is cleverly creating theatrical rules that reflect the permeable boundaries of fantasy and reality that are the crux of his intertwined stories. Which is why when the show stops being conversational and suddenly employs dramatic lighting as an effect, Hughes immediately steps out of character to explain the effect, and why they used it, and how it fits into what they’re doing. And so on.
The couple next to me was not amused, but I found this incessant and good-natured deconstruction of the rules of theater quite playful and funny. Story of a Rabbit is theater for the internet age, where the audience is quite literally required to “edit the story together,” and that direct acknowledgment of the audience as a set of individual experiences is truly its point.
Is it about death? Not really, although death is certainly its subject. I’d say Story of a Rabbit is about your experience of it. Mine was quite good.
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T. Ballard Lesemann