Reviewer's Rating

A woman gives birth to a rabbit and everyone around her is confused when she struggles to adjust to life as a mother. cunnicularii, is a bold new play by Sophie McIntosh that asks uncomfortable and essential questions about the expectations placed on mothers.

Described as “a piercing fable about the wonder and brutality of motherhood,the play is wildly funny as well as deeply serious. When Mary, performed with haunting realism by Camille Umoff, gives birth to a rabbit, she finds herself grappling with difficult emotions, particularly her inability to connect with her rabbit daughter, Josephine.

While her husband, Howard, finds no problem developing a secure attachment with his daughter, Mary cannot feel the same way. It is a challenge both emotionally and physically. She bleeds heavily, ruining the never ending supply of bedsheets, laundry piling up on the stage. Breastfeeding is a nightmare, exacerbated by her mother-in-law’s insistence that she does what is best for Josephine, despite her bleeding nipples.

Mary is traumatised by the birth but the doctor is oblivious, perhaps even indifferent, to her pain. The exchanges between Mary and her male doctor are harrowing. ‘You really should have known that,’ he says when he finally gives her a possible explanation for her endless bleeding. ‘How?’ she replies. This is the problem: she is expected to immediately become a perfect mother, selfless, giving, enduring, loving. But, instead, her reality is terror, pain, and a disgust that fills her with shame. It is only once she allows herself to accept that being a mother is hard, perfection impossible, that she learns how to love her child.

While the mother-in-law character, Gladys, performed with superb dynamism by Jen Anaya, might occasionally feel a little clichéd, she does offer an interesting perspective. Although she has vivid memories of her own difficult pregnancies and her feelings of resentment towards her child, she fails to find a way to support Mary. Just try harder, she tells her. Maybe you rushed into this, she suggests, unhelpfully. But you wanted this, so don’t complain. She makes everything worse, sending Mary into a spiral of guilt and confusion.

Performed in a stark white box studio at the Alchemical studios, NYC, the production’s pace is relentless, combining painfully realistic conversations with physical theater, dream sequences, and a highly effective lighting and sound scape. Mary’s internal world projects itself onto every detail of the performance, and the audience is swept along entirely.

The play deals with difficult and distressing topics, including postpartum depression and grief, and there are moments when it is hard to imagine how the play’s message can be anything other than ‘don’t become a mother.’ But, in the end, there is great hope and even greater love, found when Mary can accept without shame her own brutal and magical experience of motherhood.

Alchemical Studios

Written by Sophie McIntosh

Directed by Nina Goodheart

Movement director: Willow Funkhouser

Produced by Good Apples Collective and Esmé Maria Ng

Cast: Jen Anaya,  Juan Arturo,  Benjamin Milliken
and Camille Umoff

Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission

Performing until July 13th