Rabbit food

Donnie Darko takes to the stage
By IRIS FANGER  |  October 23, 2007
Dan McCabe as Donnie and Perry Jackson as Frank

Donnie Darko | American Repertory Theatre, Zero Arrow Theatre, Mass Ave + Arrow St, Cambridge | October 27–November 18 | $39-$52; $25 students; $15 student rush | 617.547.8300
The title troubled teen of the 2001 Richard Kelly cult hit Donnie Darko stumbles through his days and nights in parallel universes. He’s a student at a conventional suburban high school, but he also lives in a darker, more confusing place that may or may not exist only in his head. Both dimensions have been transferred from film to stage in a new adaptation by director Marcus Stern that opens at Zero Arrow Theatre this weekend.

According to Stern, “Donnie doesn’t know what’s going on — if he is going crazy. He begins to think there is a higher order and that he’s been chosen to make a sacrifice for those he loves. In one sense, the arc of the story is about a guy who finally finds he has a purpose in life.”

Donnie can be excused for thinking he’s going mad. The film, which is set during the 1988 presidential election, when Michael Dukakis was the Democratic candidate, begins when a human-sized black rabbit enters Donnie’s room and beckons him to follow. Later that night, an airplane engine falls from the sky onto Donnie’s bed. If Frank — that’s the rabbit, mysterious stranger or hallucination — had not led Donnie away, he would have been killed. The action, which is enhanced by Donnie’s heightened powers of perception, veers between genres as disparate as science fiction, with images of time travel, and Leave It to Beaver–style retro-TV-sit-com.

The film made a star out of the then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal. Stern has cast newcomers Dan McCabe and Laura Heisler as Donnie and his girlfriend, Gretchen, along with company regulars Will LeBow, Thomas Derrah, Karen MacDonald, and Remo Airaldi. And he says he’s chosen to “honor the story” rather than transform it, substituting stage illusion for some of the film’s special effects. (Think pulsating sound and light plus miniatures for the crash of the engine from the skies.) “We’re not changing it. We’re bringing it to an audience to witness it live.”

What’s more, though he believes in the spiritual quality of Donnie’s quest, he doesn’t want to tie the play to any one religion, or to religion at all. “I think of it as a non-denominational story — for those who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim and equally for those who are atheists or believe in no religion. Donnie becomes our Everyman, chosen to give service. People take away a variety of meanings. I think that’s a good thing. The story allows you to decipher what the pattern of events means.”

On the Web
American Repertory Theatre: www.amrep.org

Related: October lite, Kiss him deadly, Boston music news: December 1, 2006, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Michael Dukakis, Elections and Voting, Politics,  More more >
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