Emory John Collinson
The Last Rabbit, Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, 4 p.m., through Oct. 28. Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache La Poudre St., $10-$15, springsensembletheatre.org.
hough few turn to the theater for a fright during the Halloween season, I recommend taking a chance on The Last Rabbit
, a world premiere by local playwright Jessica Weaver. Drawing on classic elements of the horror genre — an isolated area, a simple hick, a vulnerable woman — Weaver turns those elements on their heads to create a unique and deeply disturbing play.
The protagonist, a prostitute named Alice (Abby Gaydos), wakes up injured in a trailer home in the desert, where a stranger, Jim (Taylor Geiman), claims to have taken her to nurse her back to health. Echoing dialogue and a soundtrack of dissonant guitar immediately disorients the audience — our first clue that something’s not quite right about this situation.
If you think you can see where this is going based on the conventions of the genre, you’re mistaken. The first half-hour of the play, sure, you gather clues that you think might point to Jim’s nefarious purpose and spotty backstory. But — and I can’t emphasize this enough — this play gets weird
I’m hesitant to spoil the surprise, the introduction of a third character (ingeniously played by three actors: Ellie Hinkle, David Brown and Brittany Nicole Merritt) that shifts the tone of the play. But you should know going in that the power dynamics between Jim and Alice aren’t what they seem.
The script, though longer than necessary in my estimation, does some of the work conveying that to the audience. But its clues would mean nothing without strong actors. Gaydos’ Alice is headstrong, but beaten down. She’s vulnerable, but never “fragile” as Jim claims. Knowing this as an audience member, as Jim fails to see it onstage, inspires a kind of anticipatory delight — you spend endless, tense minutes waiting for her hidden power to be unleashed.
Then Geiman — phew! On paper, the character might echo Norman Bates, as his obsession with his “mama” is familiarly off-putting. But Geiman plays Jim with an obvious innocence and a very quiet thread of lethality that lands very effective.
Director Bob Morsch intentionally ups the audience’s sense of claustrophobia, confusion and anxiety with stellar sound design, and blocking that keeps elements of the small set a mystery until the time comes to reveal them. Also, props to, well, props designer Jillmarie Peterson, who stocked the house with tiny, relevant details — even details we may not see.
The script does have its weak moments; characters sometimes lose their distinctive voice, and the opacity of the dialogue means we don’t always understand exactly what the characters are doing. Without Friday night’s talkback with the playwright (and a quick google of “the rabbit test”), I might have missed parts of the plot that wanted explanation. But whether or not you understand all of its details, it’s a perfect, unconventional, seasonal scare.