Under the High Line at 20th Street, up a flight of stairs in a building so ordinary you risk missing it, is a room with a nondescript conference table, around which 15 or so people are beckoned to sit at random. Nine more will be seated at music stands, and all will be given a script bearing a name that isn't their own.
To my surprise, mine said "David." It was purely coincidental — we had been told to sit anywhere — but it made an already personal solo show, Alison S.M. Kobayashi's Say Something Bunny!, feel even more private — especially when she talked directly to me as both David an audience member and as the character "David," who also happened to be a real person.
Created by Kobayashi and Christopher Allen of the company UnionDocs, Say Something Bunny is an archaeological dig into the lives of a family from Woodmere, New York, a clan that Kobayashi discovered when she was given a wire recorder with two spools of audio within it. As she listened to the recordings on this primitive system, she became a fly on the wall during two family dinners (one in 1954 and one in 1956), featuring teenager David, his younger brother Larry, their parents and grandparents, friends, neighbors (one of whom is the aforementioned Bunny), and two pets.
The recordings, made by David, capture extremely ordinary conversations about extremely conventional subject matter. Even so, Kobayashi started transcribing the tapes' audio and trying to discover all she could about these people. Through context clues like song lyrics and football scores, as well as the acknowledgement of a wedding anniversary being celebrated, she was able to deduce the exact date and year that the recordings were made. She found census data and university records that led her to more in-depth information about the members of this family, the lives that ensued, and how many of them ended. If I ever need to hire a detective, Kobayashi will be my first call.
Say Something Bunny! is ethnography. The show itself consists of Kobayashi playing the recordings and commenting with her findings. We follow the transcript, but we also become the people that we're listening to. Though Kobayashi does not require audience members to participate, she refers each by his or her character's name. In life, I am not the David of the piece — David Newburge, we learn, grew up to write erotica, including the 1971 off-Broadway nudie musical Stag Movie — but the personalization of the experience caused the line between performer and spectator to blur to such an extreme degree that I almost forgot where I was.
I've never experienced a feeling quite like that before, and it's all thanks to Kobayashi's gentle demeanor and dedication to finding the truth. You can tell she not only cares about these people but also went to great lengths to get things right, and that passion permeates the piece. Flying under the radar for 11 sold-out months and counting (it has now extended through September), Say Something Bunny! is as much a treasure trove as the discovering of a spool of audio in an old-fashioned recording device. While you might not have seen theater like this before, once you start listening, you can't get enough of the story that unfolds.