For such a sweet and simple story, Christopher Ashley's production of Bunny Bunny is shamelessly overproduced and overdesigned.
Alan Zweibel (Bruno Kirby) and Gilda Radner (Paula Cale) meet and become friends in 1975, when he is a novice gag writer and she is a novice company member at Saturday Night Live. She calls him Zweibel; he calls her Gilbert. He breaks up with his "sort of, not really, you know" girlfriend. They start to have a relationship, which, at her request, they take v-e-r-y s-l-o-w- l-y. She dances with Andy Warhol at Studio 54 and sits on the Knicks bench at Madison Square Garden; he watches. They finally get married -- to other people. He has a child; she divorces and remarries. He has another child; she is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. He has another child; she dies. He speaks the eulogy at her funeral.

It's a sweet and touching story, which Alan Zweibel (the real one, that is) turned into a volume of reminiscences in dialogue form called Bunny Bunny, and which he has now turned into a play, receiving its premiere at the Philadelphia Theatre Company.

It's a sweet story; but it's primarily his story. It's his memory (when he suddenly remembers that an encounter occurred not at the Fulton Street Fish Market but in Central Park, the set changes accordingly). And it's his feelings: he talks about how hard it is to be friends with someone dying of cancer, how it makes you feel like you're a phony, how it strains the limits of your empathy.

Meanwhile, she's the one dying of cancer.

Even though she shares the stage with Zweibel, you just don't get enough of Gilda in Bunny Bunny, and what you do get is from his perspective. The things we learn about her -- that she throws up a lot (from unhappiness, or from anxiety?), that doing comedy is a lonely thing, etc. -- we learn only when she grudgingly lets Zweibel (the character) see them, and when Zweibel (the playwright) lets us see them. I guess if they wanted to show us her story they would have dramatized her book. In the meanwhile, we're stuck with his story, which just isn't as interesting.

And so, Gilda (the character) has nothing to do but be guarded, which Cale does well, and to be what in the '60s used to be called "kooky," which Cale, with her Gilda-like nasal voice, red socks, striped T-shirt and suspenders, does very well indeed. And that leaves Zweibel (the character) to be sensitive and shleppy, and to get all the good one-liners, which Kirby does perfectly well.

For such a sweet and simple story, Christopher Ashley's production for PTC is shamelessly overproduced and overdesigned, cluttered with two-dimensional painted backdrops, telephones, couches and typewriters in the first half (designed by David Gallo), and with ever-changing photo projections (by Jan Hartley) in the second half (when they've gotten past the SNL phase of their lives and have moved on to their "real" lives, get it?). All the play's supporting roles are played by Alan Tudyk, one or two of which are played appropriately straight, and all the rest of which are as two-dimensional as the set, as overplayed as a failing SNL sketch, and reprehensibly sexist and racist.

-- Cary M. Mazer