Mercury Theater’s “Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Love Story” is a squishy sentimental play about the iconic “Saturday Night Live” star from the perspective of her best friend Alan Zweibel, whose constant whining about the fact that they never got together romantically does very little to recommend him to a progressive audience.
The actors do a fine job and the premise has potential. I wanted to like this play. But as minute after minute of painstaking imitation played out on stage I couldn’t help but feel that Gilda Radner deserves a better tribute than two-and-a-half hours worth of a man who felt friend-zoned and never really understood bulimia.
Perhaps the experience of watching this play is different for folks who grew up with Radner’s comedy. The audience around me was enthralled and weeping by the final moments, a reaction that I found flummoxing considering how distanced the whole thing felt. The enormity of Mercury’s proscenium swallows the three performers, the set feels amateurish (I winced as one flying set piece nudged a source-four lighting instrument on the night I attended) and the real drama of Radner’s story, her fight with cancer, is consigned to the last two scenes. All in all, it didn’t live up to the standard for Chicago theater that frequent arts patrons in this city have come to expect.
Where is the play about Radner that doesn’t frame her in the white male gaze and the white male narrative? Perhaps we could invest in that instead. (Emma Couling)
Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 North Southport, (773)325-1700, mercurytheaterchicago.com, $30-$55. Through April 1.