Rabbit forming

Donnie Darko, plus The Bluest Eye and To Kill a Mockingbird
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  December 16, 2008


VIDEO: Carolyn Clay on Donnie Darko

For further indication of the darkening zeitgeist, consider the personae of imaginary rabbits. The six-foot invisible bunny befriended by Elwood P. Dowd in the 1944 Harvey is a far cry from the long-eared, Darth Vader–voiced apocalyptic bunny of the 2001 cult-hit film DONNIE DARKO. Hell, if Glenn Close were to boil up menacing doomsayer Frank, you’d be relieved — though it would play havoc with filmmaker Richard Kelly’s tale of a troubled teen beckoned by the man-sized beast from his bed during the presidential campaign of 1988, and thus avoiding — at least temporarily — a jet engine through the chest. Harvey began life on Broadway and then became a Jimmy Stewart film. Kelly’s sci-fi fantasy has gone in the opposite direction, with American Repertory Theatre associate director Marcus Stern’s faithful stage adaptation receiving its world premiere courtesy of the ART (at Zero Arrow Theatre through November 18). If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Kelly should be pleased. Complete with surly family dinner-table talk, Stephen Hawking time-travel theories, and menacing appearances by the rabbit with an ax, this is as close to Donnie Darko as you’re likely to get without a camera and Jake Gyllenhaal.

One could ask the point of the exercise — other than to play Pied Piper to a younger theater audience — when the film is available to be bought or rented, interpreted, and dissected on various Web sites. And Stern, though he comes up with some surreal stage visuals, is not out to reinvent the wheel. “We’re not changing it,” he told the Phoenix of his approach to the material. “We’re bringing it to an audience to witness live” the strange journey of the title character, a brilliant and possibly psychotic teen who comes under the influence of the commanding man rabbit — invader from a parallel universe or figment of his imagination — who predicts the end of the world by the end of the month and authorizes various acts of destruction on the eve of destruction. Questioning the existence of God and Fate, the hypocrisy of Man, the stability of the time-space continuum, and the efficacy of his meds, unlikely hero Donnie comes to believe he can save the planet — or at least his loved ones — by plugging a wormhole in time and submitting to a kind of martyrdom.

At Zero Arrow, on a set by Matt McAdon, the world of the film is stretched across the stage, from the Darko domicile to the golf course where Donnie wakes from sleepwalking after the rabbit to a classroom in his suburban high school that doubles as a movie theater to his shrink’s office. From the stage-right wall protrudes the front of a fatal automobile, and above all hangs the whirligig of time, a miniature house and plane caught in the tangle of its wheel spokes. The locations are lined up so that Dan McCabe’s scruffily suffering Donnie can sprint from frame to frame of the cinematic script. And everywhere there are doors, mirrors, and frames waiting to house the sinister image of Frank and other tableaux. As in Tiny Alice, there is a diminutive replica of the family residence, into the roof of which, during a high-school talent show, an entire toy plane (not merely an engine) is interpretively danced.

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