Thursday, July 18, 2013

Interview: Rosaruby Kagan on Bunny Bunny

Gilda Radner's sorta lover
“we can’t be romantic, you are too important to me in my life”
by David Sklar

Rosaruby Kagan (Performer / Adaptor) is a Grotowski based actor and has been performing, writing, and producing theatre for over 10 years.  Bunny Bunny will be her third and most extensive solo production.  Ms Kagan holds a BA in theatre from The New School University in New York City and a MA in Drama Therapy from Concordia University.  She has collaborated with companies from New York to Austin; including North American Cultural Laboratory, Reverend Billy's Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, The Living Theatre, Ariel Dance Theatre, Austin Renaissance Theatre Co, and Rubber Rep. Since moving to Montréal in 2007, Ms Kagan has researched the therapeutic potential of physical acting training, dipped into the improv scene at Theatre St. Catherine,  was a member of the sketch comedy troupe The Dirty Little Spoons, wrote and directed Buddha and the Rock Star (2011 Montréal Fringe, New York Catskills Festival of New Theatre), and worked with numerous other theatre companies, notably Zeitgeist Theatre Collective's production of Not Fit for Bears.

CHARPO:  Why is it a “sort of love story” when talking about Gilda Radner?

KAGAN:  Well, Alan Zweibel was one of the original writers for SNL (Saturday Night Live). He met Gilda in 1975 and they quickly became friends. They had a really good connection; I think he fell in love with her a little bit. But due to the complications of fame and the fact that neither of them were good at staying friends with their past lovers Gilda told him, “we can’t be romantic, you are too important to me in my life”.  

The first time we kissed, she looked at me and said you need to meet my friend Zweibel!

CHARPO:   What made you want to adapt and stage this play?

KAGAN: I have been a huge Gilda fan forever. I met a great writer friend in New York and was talking to her about creating a show and she said, “Everyone says you remind them of Gilda Radner, so you should read this book”.  I loved it. The connection between Alan and Gilda was funny and touching and written as a dialogue. So I adapted it as a play. It’s coming up to the 40th anniversary of SNL and she made a huge impact for female comedians.  She broke through that scene not as a sex symbol but by being funny. But tragically she died at 43 of ovarian cancer and didn’t get to have a full impact.   

CHARPO: Was the book actual dialogue between the two friends?

KAGAN: Alan was married to a woman named Robyn and both Gilda and Robyn were friends. Three years after Gilda died, Robyn told Alan he needed to process that Gilda died.  So he sat down and wrote everything he could remember from their interactions. He then showed it to Gene Wilder, whom Gilda was married to and Gene thought it was a great tribute.  

In the book, Wilder said, “If you want to know more about Gilda, read this book. The first time we kissed, she looked at me and said you need to meet my friend Zweibel!"  So that was telling about their relationship. She had this effect on people; when they met her they felt like she was their best friend.  She loved to make people laugh. Even when she was dying of cancer, she would wear little bunny slippers so that the night nurse would have a laugh. 

CHARPO: So that’s why it’s called “Bunny Bunny”?

KAGAN:  It’s one of the touching parts in the show. It’s a particular superstition she had and shared with Alan. Something she would say to protect herself.  It showed her uniqueness, softness and goofiness. 

When I proposed it to Tanner Harvey (Mr. Jack-of-all-trades), I was thinking of making it a two hander but he suggested turning it into a one-woman show

CHARPO:  What kind of impact did she have, not only as a comedian but also as a female trailblazer?

KAGAN:  She started at Second City in Toronto. She wasn’t neat and tidy.  Lorne Michaels knew Gilda and even before he got the ok from NBC he wanted to cast her in whatever show was going to happen. SNL at the time was groundbreaking because it was showing youth culture. She did comedy for women.  I remember reading that John Belushi wanted to fire all the women on the show because he didn’t think they were funny. But she was presenting work that no one had seen on TV.  She set the stage for people like Sarah Silverman and Janeane Garofalo that allowed women to be the main force rather than secondary. 

It’s still hard for female comedians.  Men mostly run it and I think it’s hard for women to feel confident without being sexual.  Sometimes men don’t want to hear what women really think and women who really go for it aren’t considered sexy. Well, Gilda was having none of that.   

CHARPO: Does your production chronicle her life?

KAGAN:  It’s more of Alan’s story. When I proposed it to Tanner Harvey (Mr. Jack-of-all-trades), I was thinking of making it a two hander but he suggested turning it into a one-woman show since it’s more of a letter from the bereaved. It works well. She is a huge part of his life and it starts in 1975 and goes up until her death. Over 14 years: kids, marriage and drunken phone calls.  And fights. A lasting friendship, which makes it meaty. 

CHARPO:And you devised all of this?

KAGAN: Tanner Harvey and I adapted the 280-page book. We didn’t add any words but we had to make some cuts. I’ve never seen a book written like that. It’s a conversation. And since I play both characters, there is a physical aspect to the show as well. Tanner is great director and has sensitivity for listening and getting the audience to listen. He had really helped. He likes “less is more” and I’m a bit of a ham so I think the two of us balance each other out in the rehearsal room. 

CHARPO: How do you convince an audience who has been so Fringed-out to come over to see some more?

KAGAN: This isn’t a Fringe show. We have been working on it for a long time. From the adapting to the writing it’s been six months.  It’s a full-fledged theatre piece. And we thought this is a perfect story to tell at the same time as the Just for Laughs Festival.

CHARPO: Anything you would like to add?    

KAGAN:  I remember my dad telling me a story of Gilda. He knew her in Detroit and they hung out after university. He said she was like her characters in real life. I think my dad even had a crush on her.  And they were two neurotic Jews trying to figure out their lives. One day they went for a walk with her dog and it got loose and started humping another dog so she ran over to the owner and said, “Well I’m sure she never learned that at home!” 

Bunny Bunny runs to July 28

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