Review by Bella Wellstead
Giant mutant rabbits have overrun the planet. Politicians are dropping like flies, there is a refugee crisis, and global governments recommend that pet bunnies be put down. Enterprising trillionaire Rob Muskas has funded a mission to transport humanity to Mars, and an underground network of scientists and activists are working to dismantle it. Rabbits on a Red Planet – directed by Isaac Broadbent – is a campy science fiction musical, chock full of pop culture references and funky synth tunes.
The ensemble is strong, with each actor deftly navigating a variety of characters. Andy Leonard is a gratingly charismatic Rob Muskas. His mansplaining has a tone of delightful amiability, and his performance is infused with a grandiosity befitting the “king of mars”. Leonard staggers about the stage, pelvis forward and shoulders back, affecting careless dominance. He claims the space as his own, and why shouldn’t he? He’s trillionaire Rob Muskas!
Isabelle Kohout is steadfast and sensible as scientist Dr. Janice Evelyn. Working as a double agent under Muskas and the network of rebels, she keeps her secrets close to her chest. She is clever, self-assured, and tender, with an incredibly strong voice to melt every heart in the chilly Flight Path Theatre. Unfortunately, the depth of her characterization was a little disappointing. She effectively played into the archetype of the sensible female scientist in opposition to Muskas’ arrogant authority. However, I wanted to see more of her agency and strategy. Throughout the production, she hesitantly resists Muskas’ romantic and sexual advances. When she eventually weaponizes her sexuality to manipulate him, the transformation feels abrupt and hollow. The audience is not given the opportunity to plot with her, and thus their ability to connect with her plans is impeded. One gets the sense that implicating the audience would have enhanced engagement and clarity.
James Burchett plays Adam, the underinformed everyman, with an endearing naivete. After clumsily maneuvering his way onto the first journey to Mars, Adam finds himself belittled by Muskas and Dr. Evelyn both. His body language brilliantly communicates his status as he slumps in his chair and languishes, supine, on the floor of the spacecraft. While his enthusiasm for taking the mission down from the inside is admirable, his motivations aren’t particularly clear. He ostensibly joins the rebellion for “something to do”, and it seems bafflingly easy for him to talk his way into the mission. I am left wondering who Adam is outside of the musical – what are his interests? Who does he know? What does he know? Where do his loyalties lie? Particularly disappointing is the relationship between Adam and Dr. Evelyn, whose budding camaraderie is transformed suddenly and awkwardly into an unconvincing romance.
Sara Camara is entertaining as prime minister Maddy McCormack, adopting an irreverent, nasal accent and swearing with cheek and gusto. Camara also plays Ami, a young Martian scout. Her delicate movements and inquisitive gaze endear us to this vulnerable, endangered creature.
Jenna Wooley plays scientist Juju McGee, who leads the network of scientists that seek to halt Muskas’ mission. In this role, her vigilance and rigidity amuse. However, it is her performance as the Martian Elder where Wooley shines. The Elder communicates through fluid movements, rolling her shoulders and twisting her wrists with an intense elegance.
Music by Ryley Gillen is magnificent. It ranges from whiny sci-fi synth to upbeat, percussive elevator music. Tense moments are punctuated by a symphony of building, ominous sounds. The band, who perform excellently together, are a highlight of the musical. Unfortunately, in various – often significant – moments of the show, their instruments are louder than the actors’ singing. As such, many pieces of the story are missed, forcing the audience to pick them up via context clues later in the show.
Lighting design by Julian Dunne is playful and versatile, transforming the minimalist set from a political podium to a spacecraft to an isolated lookout on the surface of Mars. Alli Sebastian Wolf’s costumes are also delightful, with the Mars voyagers’ spacesuits and the Martians’ gauzy orange headpieces providing particularly humorous visuals.
While I enjoyed the campy and parodic tone of Rabbits on a Red Planet, I was often left wondering where the show was going. Drawing upon a variety of sources in science fiction and pop culture, it feels as though Andy Leonard and Irving Gregory’s writing is a tad too ambitious. The abundance of sci-fi tropes and story threads felt unfocused and hard to follow. I was ultimately left disappointed in the story’s conclusion – it was as though I had not been given enough clues as to the cause of the giant mutant rabbit infestation, nor the aims and particulars of the journey to Mars. I desperately wanted to sleuth, suspect, and accuse. However, it felt that the musical resisted engaging me in its mysteries until the very end.
Image Credit: Anthony Stone