At the Arden, a baby bunny with bite

Posted: December 07, 2001

A vegetarian vampire? Isn't that an oxymoron? Ha! Somebody's sucking the juice out of the vegetables in the refrigerator, and who else could it be but Bunnicula?

Bunnicula is the baby rabbit the Monroes found and brought back from the theater where the family had just seen the movie Dracula. Cute little thing. But what to name him?

"Maybe we could name him Prince," Mr. Monroe says. "I had a dog named Prince. Well, at least that's how he was formerly known."

No way. How about Bunnicula?

Agreed, and that's the name of the musical mystery that opens tomorrow on the Arden Theatre's F. Otto Haas Stage and continues through Jan. 13. Bunnicula is adapted from the popular children's book of the same name by Deborah and James Howe. It's told from the viewpoint of two pets, Harold the dog and Chester the cat.

The two become suspicious of the cute little rabbit when they note that he seems to be awake only at night and seems to have fangs. And then there are those refrigerator raids. They try, desperately, to warn the family, but you know how dense human beings can be.

It's a lighthearted story that will appeal to adults as well as children, said director Whit MacLaughlin, whose full-time occupation is actor, designer and artistic director of New Paradise Laboratories, a theater company.

Richard Ruiz, a veteran Arden performer - he appeared most recently in Baby Case and The Baker's Wife - plays Harold the dog.

"The beauty of the script," he said, "is that it expressly says the actors are not ever to try to mimic the dog and the cat, not even to be dressed as such. It's written for the dog and cat to be like a vaudeville team playing off each other."

Grace Gonglewski, who plays Chester the cat, likened the two pets to the comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen.

A frequent performer at the Arden, Gonglewski won a Barrymore Award for her role there in A Little Night Music a couple of seasons ago.

But has she ever played a cat?

She has, sort of, as Maggie in the Arden's production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The difficult role of Bunnicula is performed by a three-foot-long puppet made of fabric, molded plastic, and wires, with batteries. Operated by black-clad Scott Hitz in Japanese Bunraku style, Bunnicula's nose twitches, his eyes blink, his mouth opens.

"We are mesmerized by this bunny," MacLaughlin said.

If You Go

What: Bunnicula, a musical play.

Where: Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St.

When: Through Jan. 13.

Cost: Adults, $22-$30; teens 13-17, $15-18; children 12 and under, $12-$14. Tickets may be purchased by phone or at www.ardentheatre.org.

Phone: 215-922-1122.

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