The Search Party's Bunny gets raw and vulnerable in her exploration of love, sex, and friendship

Hannah Moscovitch's script upends traditional story lines about relationships between men and women

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      When veteran Vancouver director Mindy Parfitt chooses her next theatre production, her mind immediately goes to the visuals.

      The founder of the Search Party says that when she sees a script, certain images pop into her head. And so it went with her newest work, Bunny, a story by award-winning Ontario playwright Hannah Moscovitch about a highly literate woman who awakens to her own desires.

      “When I read this play, I felt like there was something really interesting we could do with this piece visually in the design element,” Parfitt tells the Straight over Zoom just before a rehearsal. ”And I think that’s obviously an important part of what the Search Party is bringing to the table: a really strong cohesion between design and text. And I felt like this piece really spoke to me in respect to that cohesion.”

      With set design by Amir Ofek, lighting by Itai Erdal, and costumes by Jessica Oostergo, the show reunites key parts of the team behind the Search Party’s first production, The Father, which won six Jessie Richardson Awards in 2020. Alessandro Juliani provides Bunny’s sound design and composition.

      “When I start working with the set designer, especially with Amir, we usually start with an image,” Parfitt explains. “We’ll have a conversation. Then he’ll usually bring forward an image that he feels resonates with what we’ve been talking about.”

      In the case of Bunny, it began with a very still lake in the morning, with a little mist and a dock.

      To Parfitt, it was very evocative of what Bunny was truly about, conveying a sense of expansiveness, reflection, and space.

      Director Mindy Parfitt says that the Search Party, which she founded, brings a strong cohesion between design and text to its projects.

      In the play, lead character Sorrel, played by Emma Slipp, contemplates how her life has unfolded.

      “So when she reflects back, we find her in many different locations,” Parfitt reveals. “So we wanted to create a space that allowed for and was adaptable to that.”

      Parfitt then starts snapping her fingers as she points out that Bunny has a certain rhythm—these transitions had to be made fairly quickly.

      “That determines what you can and cannot do,” she adds.

      This production does something daring: Moscovitch flips what’s normally a male story to a female story.

      “In most love stories, a man is pursuing a woman who is hesitating,” the playwright states in a quote on the Search Party website. “In that structure, the man is the protagonist and the woman is the antagonist. We have two thousand years of that. Bunny is a whole rewriting of the structure.”

      Slipp, who is also on the Zoom call with Parfitt, doesn’t want to give away much about the piece, except to say that there is “some real intimacy involved”. She also spoke about the “raw vulnerability” of her character.

      “It feels really exciting to have the permission to talk about the things that this play brings up,” Slipp volunteers.

      She also acknowledges that Bunny includes material that isn’t usually explored in theatre from a female perspective, which she finds liberating. Although Sorrel’s character had a childhood that was “eerily similar” to her own, there are also huge differences in their personalities.

      “I definitely have some experiences that I can draw on [from theatre], but I have never had a role like this before,” Slipp adds. “It’s huge. It’s my Hamlet.”

      Both Parfitt and Slipp emphasize that Moscovitch includes some really funny moments in Bunny.

      “She’s quite brilliant at making the hard stuff palatable with the soft stuff,” Slipp says.

      The script for Bunny resonated with Parfitt because it entails a female protagonist asking important, poignant questions about what it is to be a woman and what it is to be a sexual woman.

      “If a woman likes sex, then she’s labelled. It’s a negative connotation,” Parfitt says. “But if a man likes sex, that’s just how men are. I think that’s really deeply embedded in our society.”

      She appreciates how Moscovitch is able to bring this contradiction to light in a “very generous, funny, accessible way”.

      “I don’t think it feels confrontational,” the director says. “It allows the audience to have that conversation and it invites the conversation.”

      At that point, Slipp jumps in to say that in the case of her character, there’s an “internalized shame”.

      “It’s her own feelings toward her sexuality,” the actor states. “And the shame she’s putting on herself is not necessarily being inflicted by the world. But it’s something that we are inflicting on ourselves as women in our culture still to this day.”

      Emma Slipp quips that Bunny is her Hamlet because the character goes through so much over the course of the show.
      Emily Cooper

      Parfitt admits that she’s not sure why this is the case but wonders if it’s because women have been seen as “lesser”, historically. According to her, people have become accustomed to hearing the male perspective.

      “If you keep being told a specific narrative, then that’s the narrative that becomes commonplace,” she says.

      The first showing of the play comes nine days after International Women’s Day, which fell on Tuesday (March 8). Parfitt says this wasn’t planned in advance, that it only happened because those were the dates offered by the Cultch as part of its annual Femme Festival.

      Nonetheless, Parfitt cherishes what Bunny has to say about the camaraderie of women—something that’s clearly on display during her interview with Slipp.

      “I really love the female friendship that the piece has embedded in it,” Parfitt says. “I think it’s a really lovely part of the play that I gravitated to.”