reviewed by Paula Citron
Story of a Rabbit
Spoleto Festival USA 2009
Created and performed by Hugh Hughes and Aled Williams
At the Emmett Robinson Theatre
Spoleto Festival USA has a penchant for performance art, particularly solo monologues about life experience. Welsh theatre artist Hugh Hughes has collaborated with musician/sound designer Aled Williams to produce Story of a Rabbit, a musing on life and death.
Hughes is a very charming fellow who stands by the exit and personally greets audiences when they enter and leave the theatre. He also has a very informal stage approach, breaking the fourth wall and commenting on events taking place in the theatre, even the walk-outs. He is very fast on the uptake with funny one liners. There are also constant references to the long-suffering Williams who sits in virtual silence surrounded by his instruments and soundboard.
Story of a Rabbit is basically a spoken essay, linking the death of a rabbit and the death of Hughes’ father. The rabbit belongs to the children of Hughes’ neighbour that he is babysitting, so to speak. His father died in Wales when Hughes was out of reach and so he arrived late into the proceedings. These two narrative threads are the throughline.
Hughes would like to have the entire audience enjoy tea because a new study shows that the drink prevents cardiovascular disease. Thus he chose two audience members to have a cup for the rest of us, one early and one late on in the show. They were duly served in a cup and saucer. The stage is festooned with a very eclectic and humorous array of props that Hughes accesses when they are germane to his story. He also uses a projection screen to flash key words, like “Death”, family photographs, and various quotes and charts such as a mind map of the show. For his part, collaborator Williams provides suitable sound effects and original songs like “Death Is All Around Us”. Hughes even got the audience to sing in the round.
Along the way Hughes talks about his role in the arts (he’s an “emerging” artist), references famous writers, discusses Power Point as a tool of communication, explains various light changes, and riffs into philosophical digressions such as fantasy versus reality, and the relativity of particles and molecules. Hughes clearly is a man of great intelligence.
Story of a Rabbit is not a show for the general market place. It demands work on the part of the audience to stay focused on the burden of Hughes’ essay, which is to make death a less frightening and confusing concept as well as a shared theatrical experience. His tangents seem obscure at times, but everything is interconnected.
In the final analysis, Hughes is a sophisticated performer and writer who uses deceptive naivety to draw in the audience.
Spoleto Festival USA continues in Charleston, South Carolina until Jun. 7.