Review "Watership Down": Captivating Rabbit Hole Wonderland

Audio Podcast at ITUNES 
Narrated by Joshua Volkers

At 6912 N. Glenwood
Based on the novel by Richard Adams
Adapted by John Hildreth
Directed by Katie McLean Hainsworth
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm
Sundays at 4pm
Thru June 19th 
Running Time:  Two hours and twenty minutes includes an intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
When a vision professes total annihilation to their world, two brothers lead fugitives into undiscovered territory.  Their continued existence is dependent on uniting together for protection and procreation.  It’s a gripping drama of ordinary heroes overcoming extraordinary circumstances to avoid genocide. Human survival instinct?  Not quite, they are rabbits!  Lifeline Theatre presents the world premiere of WATERSHIP DOWN.   Fiver is able to predict the future.  When Fiver anticipates real estate developers destroying their warren, he convinces his brother Hazel to escape.  Other rogue rabbits join their quest for a new home.  The plot is a perfect science fiction-action thriller-summer movie- blockbuster.  The twist? It’s rabbits!  The bunny fantasy is a unique perspective on world destruction and rejuvenation.  The insurmountable obstacles are there.  But instead of moving to an inhabitable country or planet, the rabbits are just moving a few meadows over.  WATERSHIP DOWN captivates as a falling down the rabbit hole wonderland.
Playwright John Hildreth adapted Richard Adams novel for the stage.  Hildreth starts the action with a creation story.  During this folk tale, gifts are bestowed on animals.  The fable narration continues intermittently throughout the show between the bunny exodus action. Chronicling El-ahrairah’s legendary escapades serves as a base to understanding rabbit history.  His epic past intertwines with the present day bunnies’ journey.  Under the direction of Katie McLean Hainsworth, WATERSHIP DOWN is not a warm and fuzzy cottontail adventure. It’s a gritty tribe against tribe, kill or be killed, animalistic warfare.  The enemy -birds, other rabbits, man- is everywhere!  Hainsworth paces it with a combination of danger and whimsy.  There is an underlying fatal urgency that drives the capers.  Even knowing the drama is located in a barnyard or on a grassy hill, it still enthralls like an espionage flick.
get-attachment-1.aspx.jpegWith the foot thumping, nose sniffing, forehead rubbing, the large and talented cast transform into rabbits.  But the bigger captivation moment is when the actors playing rabbits morph into humans.  Because of both the staged tender affection and vicious cruelty, the audience engages in the very humanity of the moment.  Although the entire ensemble hops to it for this high energy quest, a few standouts capture memorable moments.  At the very heart of the tale, Scott T. Barsotti (Fiver) and Paul S. Holmquist (Hazel) endear with a strong and sweet brotherly bond.  The contrast between Barsotti’s anxiety-ridden dreams and Holmquist’s stalwart support is a heartfelt connection.  An animated Jesse Manson (Dandelion/Kehaar) plays dual roles but his scene stealing moments are as a bird.  Manson is hysterical with a guttural voice, wing flailing and big-eyed expressions.  Christopher M. Walsh (Bigwig), no relation, delivers deadpan one liners with zinging humor.  Bryson Engelen (Silver) wins for MVR with head twitching perfection.  Stunned into a petrified state, the barnyard bunnies are hilarious in their prison break-out.                     
get-attachment.aspx.jpegCostume designer Aly Renee Amidei knows how to dress bunnies.  Amidei gets creative with eclectic looks defining individual rabbits’ traits.  The preppy look on the rabbits raised in captivity is particularly clever.  CLEVER is an ongoing theme for this show.  Political angst over conquering new lands is cleverly translated into a rabbit’s perspective.  The clever choice makes the intrigue even more humane. WATERSHIP DOWN snares both the heart and soul. This production has a warren full of lucky rabbits’ feet!
Production photography courtesy of Suzanne Plunkett.

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