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Theatre of Youth’s BUNNICULA sets the bar high at opening

THE BASICS:  BUNNICULA, presented by Theatre of Youth (TOY), runs through Oct 29, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m at the historic Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen Street near Elmwood Avenue. (No performances Oct 21 and 22,) (884-4400) No snacks, but copies of the six different Bunnicula titles by Deborah and James Howe are sold in the lobby by Talking Leaves Books. There are two 40-minute acts with one 10-minute intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  This play, suitable for ages 6+, is based on the Bunnicula children’s book series featuring a “vampire” rabbit who sucks the juice out of vegetables. It seems that the Monroe family has found a bunny at a theater where they were watching the movie “Dracula.” Mom combines the words “Bunny” and “Dracula” and names him “Bunnicula.” Their cat Chester, a voracious reader of books including the famous novel by Bram Stoker, pieces together clues that convince him that Bunnicula is a dangerous vampire. The excitable, conspiracy-theorist Chester tries to get Harold, the somewhat dopey dog, to help save the Monroes from the perceived menace. With seven characters on stage, each with his or her own motivations, comic misunderstandings abound.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: It was pointed out to me that, at the beginning of every performance, Artistic Director Meg Quinn doesn’t say to the young audiences: “Welcome to the Theatre of Youth.” What Quinn does say, deliberately, is “Welcome to THE THEATER” because this, for many in the audience, will be their introduction to the art form that has been with humans for thousands of years. At TOY, they take their mission seriously.

Quinn writes in the program: “Our 46th season of plays speaks to children about something always important in their lives: Identity. At the heart of each play is a character who finds fulfillment and acceptance for being who they are.” That’s true for Bunnicula, the vampire rabbit, but it’s equally true for each and every other member of the family who will have some motive or other brought into question.

Certainly TOY wanted to “make a statement” with their opening production scenery by Kenneth Shaw. They are known for great sets, but if you get there early, do take an extra moment to let your eyes wander over the fine details of the Monroe family’s home. More will be revealed as the play progresses.

Everyone in this well-rehearsed cast delivered a first-rate “opening night” (well, this is a kid’s show, so opening afternoon) performance: John Profeta as the clueless Mr. Monroe, Jenn Stafford as the super-efficient mom Mrs. Monroe, Rich Kraemer as Harold the dimwitted dog, Christine Cooke-Macvittie as Bunnicula’s puppeteer (and veterinarian), Tyler Eisenmann as the older brother Toby and Ayden Herreid as the younger brother Pete.

However, special applause must go to Anne Roaldi as Chester, the cat. You could go religiously to your Yoga class, your Pilates class, your “Yoga-lates” class, and you still wouldn’t keep up with her physicality in this role. She couples with that a unique cat persona which was a little “We are Siamese if you please” superiority, a little finicky, bored “Morris” of 9-Lives fame, a little of the crazed truth-tellers Richard Dreyfuss in the movie JAWS or Jeff Goldblum in the movie JURASSIC PARK, but mostly a unique character developed along with three-time Artie Award-winning Director Jeffrey Coyle. Nice job, you two.

And, as always, budget a little extra time for the talk-back Q&A after every performance. TOY young audiences ask the best questions. After the Q&A there are photo-ops with the entire cast.

The next shows in TOY’s season are: NEW KID (Note: October 21 and 22 only), then A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (December 2 through 17, 2017) and, starting in 2018, THE BOY AT THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING, JUNIE B. JONES IS NOT A CROOK, and for the youngest audiences, STELLALUNA next May.

Photos courtesy Theatre of Youth 

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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