- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

What’s fluffy and bloodthirsty, too? Bunnicula, the (relatively) fearsome vampire bunny whose nocturnal noshings are the focus of the nicely scary, eponymously titled play based on the children’s book by Deborah and James Howe.

Spooky sound effects and the cartoon Gothic set, with arched windows straight out of you-know-who’s castle in Transylvania, set the right atmosphere for Halloween season without requiring children to sleep with a night light until they’re 40.

The book, which is literate and wry, is intended for 9- to 12-year-olds, but Jon Klein has crafted an adaptation for Imagination Stage that reaches a wider range of ages without dumbing down the sophistication of the original text.

“Bunnicula” is told from the point of view of the Monroe family pets — Harold, a people-pleasing mutt (John Slone), and Chester (Felicia Curry), a well-read and cultured cat. For them, life is a pleasant blur of naps, tasty treats and plenty of pats and ear scratches from the Monroes.

“There’s nothing like a pet/We almost never wet” is one snappy couplet in their tuneful tribute to the joys of pet ownership.

Their days of kibble and catnip are threatened by the arrival of a new furry creature — a rabbit with mysterious black markings on his back, almost like a cape; beady, burning eyes; and teeth more Bela than Bugs. The Monroe children find him in the movie theater while watching a horror film and decide to name him Bunnicula.

Good thing they weren’t watching “Forrest Gump,” because the name suits him to a silver stake. While the family sleeps — and Chester keeps a watchful eye — Bunnicula (a puppet manipulated by Matthew Pauli) springs open the doors of his coffin, er, cage, and preys on innocent produce.

“Today, vegetables; tomorrow, the world,” warns Chester, who consults the classics — i.e., classic tales of horror, to figure out a way to get rid of Bunnicula.

His comic attempts to warn the family, via frantic rounds of charades, only get him time outside, a clean litter box and — embarrassment of embarrassments — being forced to wear a pink cat sweater.

Harold, more of a humanist (or is that bunnanist?) tries to befriend the silent animal. Although Bunnicula is kind of creepy, he poses no real threat except to salad fixings, and much of Chester’s hysteria is caused by sibling rivalry. “Plenty of Room for All,” the closing number, gently preaches the book’s moral of interspecies tolerance.

Imagination Stage’s toothsome production of “Bunnicula” captures the book’s smart and wacky tone, wherein the animals are erudite and thoughtful and the humans rather goofy. Mr. Slone’s genius with physical comedy gives Harold gifts beyond the gray matter and perfectly captures a hound’s exuberance, especially when he jumps up and down in front of the windows, barking, “Hey, hey, hey.”

Miss Curry, who just ended a stint as a feline in Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s production of “Cats,” retains much of her mouser agility for the role of Chester, leaping up on countertops and stools with a quickness that few humans possess. She also depicts Chester’s standoffishness with enviable cat-itude.

The actors playing the Monroes are fairly captivating, although they overdo their dim-bulb routine until you almost fear for the safety of the animals.

The children in the audience, however, seemed to get a big kick out of adults and older children behaving like anti-Mensa material.

“Bunnicula,” on the whole, delivers an abundance of child-friendly chills and the message that if cats and dogs can get along, why shouldn’t there be room in the world for an undead bunny?

***

WHAT: “Bunnicula” by Jon Klein, music by Chris Jeffries, based on the book by Deborah and James Howe

WHERE: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 3:30 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 7.

TICKETS: $10 to $15

PHONE: 301/280-1660

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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