Review: A Rabbit for Kim Jong-il at the Griffin Theatre Company
October 23rd 2015
“Don’t worry, Mr Wertheim. The interest in your rabbits is from the very highest office in my country.”
The opening scene of Kit Brookman’s A Rabbit for Kim Jong-il at the Griffin Theatre Company is normality itself: a daylight deal underway between Johann the rabbit farmer and the enigmatic Mr Chung, a visitor from afar sent to purchase Johann’s famous giant rabbits. Mr Chung, enthusiastically played by Kaeng Chan, is polite but insistent: he must be out of the country by tonight, nobody must know of the deal — and, oh, he must procure the rabbits by any means necessary. For you see, Mr Chung is an envoy from the DPRK, sent by the Dear Leader himself to secure Johann’s jumbo rabbits for a breeding program intended to revolutionise protein production in North Korea.
Sound complicated? Here, Mr Wertheim, one hundred thousand euro for your troubles. I assure you, the rabbits’ transport has been arranged.
And so we set off on an impossible journey that plunges deep into the fanatical cult of leadership in North Korea, mixing espionage with emotion and dousing it all in sharp absurdist humor. This play has some really, really weird moments, and I found myself constantly on the verge of disbelieving laughter at the sheer unexpectedness of it all.
On top of this, the Dear Leader’s demanding presence is felt everywhere, looming over the characters and driving events from afar.
His grinning portrait as you walk in is in fact one of the very few pieces of furniture on an otherwise very bare stage, which is fitting, because he’s the reason any of us are there at all.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that A Rabbit for Kim Jong-il was confused about what it wanted to be. Moments of serious contemplation and meaning are habitually lost in the uproar of surrounding insanity; Sophie, a local pet store employee who convinces Johann to follow his rabbits to Pyongyang, seems pulled from an entirely different script despite Kate Box‘s tireless investment in the character. Mostly, I found the attempts at genuine connection jarringly at odds with the light-hearted madness of the rest of the play.
Like any other piece of absurdist theater, it’s at its best when in the midst of ridiculous exchanges and pleasantly awkward interactions, and fortunately it has plenty of these to offer.
In particular, every scene with Brookman’s soft-spoken and gentle Felix the rabbit turns rapidly and hilariously surreal, but even then he seemed a bit out of place with the rest of the cast.
In the end, I left A Rabbit for Kim Jong-il feeling not too clear about what big, serious message Brookman was trying to convey, but happily entertained all the same.
WHAT: A Rabbit for Kim Jong-il
WHEN: 7pm Mon-Fri, 2pm+7pm Sat, until November 21
WHERE: Griffin Theatre Company SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod St, Darlinghurst
HOW MUCH: Online at Griffin Theatre Company site here from $35