For a play in which everyone argues at the top of their lungs, but no one actually does anything, “Rabbit” is unnervingly entertaining. Nina Raine’s debut drama zeroes in on the power games that play out in mixed company when bright young things gather at a bar to celebrate the 29th birthday of a femme whose father is inconveniently dying. Under scribe’s sure-handed direction, a vibrant ensemble of young Brits make the snappy dialogue crackle and pop in this serio-comic take on the know-it-all generation, which arrives at the Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 trailing beaucoup kudos from Blighty.
Regardless of the many clever lines of dialogue about life, love and the pursuit of great sex partners that Raine assigns to the attractive young professionals who arrive at a London restaurant with birthday presents and bottles of wine, there’s no mistaking the centerpiece of this party. The star is Bella (Charlotte Randle), a successful and sexually assertive PR executive who attracts men and delights women with her fierce intelligence and savage wit.
“I decided not to be in love,” she informs a former lover who still pines for her. “I decided to be hard.” With that arrogant attitude — played to stunning effect by Randle — it’s no wonder Bella is irresistible to everyone in her peer group.
But there’s a crack in Bella’s armor tonight. Her domineering father, with whom she has had a classic love/hate relationship all her life, is lying in the hospital dying of a brain tumor, and she’s struggling with conflicted feelings for the old tyrant. Proud girl that she is, Bella tells no one about this situation but her best friend, Emily, a young doctor whose face lights up, in Ruth Everett’s glowing perf, when she describes her work at the hospital.
Bella may not be talking about her father, but her raging emotions surface in the hostile direction she leads the party talk. Not knowing the source of Bella’s aggression, her guests respond on a visceral level, baiting and biting one another in a verbal game (or is it a war?) of domination between the sexes.
Susannah Wise, as the hilariously bitchy Sandy, and Adam James, as a motormouth lawyer, score the most points for brittle wit, but under the playwright’s taut direction, everyone contributes enough barbs to keep the blood flowing.
Aside from the music playing at the bar, so abrasive it deadens the ear to the dialogue, the casually cheap set, lived-in costumes, and basic-dark lighting do the job. And while the mind longs for some resolution to the issues of sexual politics raised in the play, the vitality of Raine’s characters and the juicy quality of their dialogue, makes the sit worthwhile.