“Bunnicula” was a big hit among the school bus set when I was in elementary school, so I was surprised to see it on Synchronicity Theatre’s family show schedule — I hadn’t realized that vampire bunnies were so timeless.
To test whether the beloved book by author James Howe held up, I turned to an expert: first-grader Catherine Snedden, a “Bunnicula” fan who is not at all shy about saying what she thinks.
Catherine is a pet owner and a reader who knows Bunnicula’s story inside and out: the Monroe family finds a rabbit in a theater while watching “Dracula.” They name it Bunnicula, which only adds to the family cat’s theory that there’s something wrong with this creature — something awful vampire-ish about his glowing red eyes and nocturnal lifestyle. Harold, the family dog and narrator, is less convinced, but starts getting suspicious when dry, white, juiceless vegetable start to show up in the family fridge.
Even before the show began, Catherine was taking in clues from the (simple, totally effective) set. That big dog bed on stage? Maybe that’s where Harold sleeps! Indeed, the show’s narrator quickly appeared on stage in a brown suit. At first, Catherine thought this man standing on two feet was Mr. Monroe. Then he held up a cup with the name Harold, and she noticed the spots sewn onto this suit. Within a few lines, he announced that he was the family dog.
Imaginations: moving. Disbelief: suspended.
No ears or fake fur — Catherine’s mom, Natalie Snedden, worried it was too subtle in a show for kids as young as 5 — but he was loyal, cuddly and a little dumb, like the best dogs. (And Kocina is a very good one.) Same with the family cat, Chester, played by Erin Lorette — no ears, no tail, but she moved like a cat, and was clearly a the smarter and prissier of the family pets.
“They didn’t look like a dog and a cat, but I could sure tell they were,” Catherine explained.
Catherine hardly squirmed or blinked during the hour-and-10-minute show, opting instead for wide eyes and giggling, especially whenever the pets got rowdy. She hid her face behind her program when the pets and their humans sang, but said later she liked the music.”Bunnicula,” the book, wasn’t a musical, her mom explained later, and for Catherine, it was just a bit much.
Nothing though, was better than the show’s namesake: every time Bunnicula escaped his cage (with the help of on-stage puppeteer Amy Rush) kids in the audience nearly fell out of their chairs. Was he going to scare Chester, the suspicious cat? Or to hurt the parents and boys that had adopted him?
Nope — he just wanted to suck the vegetables of their juices. Mwahaha.
“I liked that bunny,” Catherine said, deadly serious. “Each time it was night, his eyes glowed red.”
Indeed, a few bulbs can do wonders for suspense: should we believe the conspiracy-happy kitty, or the lovable, loving dog? Is Bunnicula a vampire, or just hungry?
Suspenseful, yes, but more funny than scary. Much of the humor seemed to fly right past the kids in the audience, but there was plenty of adult laughter around the Hertz stage.That meant it was a great afternoon for Catherine, and a fun one for mom, too.
“They made it funny, and that’s the only thing kids care about — if it’s funny,” Natalie explained.
Catherine went so far as to say that she liked the book and the stage show equally. She doesn’t think her dog and cat at home talk to each other the way Harold and Chester do, but she’s quite certain about their family’s pet rabbit: “Parsley definitely isn’t a vampire.”
Want to go? “Bunnicula” by Synchronicity Performance Group continues through Oct. 18, Tuesday-Thursday at 10:30 a.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-484-8636, www.synchrotheatre.com.