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'Donnie Darko' On Stage

It's Halloween and tonight in Cambridge, an iconic, furry ghost takes to the stage of the American Repertory Theatre.

Frank is the sinister-looking, six-foot tall bunny rabbit first seen in the 2001 sci fi cult film, 'Donnie Darko.'

The mind-bending movie seems an unlikely choice for theater, with its surreal effects and a roller-coaster plot involving time travel. WBUR's Andrea Shea has the story of 'Donnie Darko's' journey from the screen to the stage.

ANDREA SHEA: Donnie Darko is the title character, but Frank the Rabbit drives the plot when he gives Donnie...and everyone else...a limited time to live.

FILM CLIP: '28 Days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds...'

ANDREA SHEA: To bring Frank alive on stage the team at the American Repertory Theatre copied the original rabbit costume's maniacal design. And they're amping up Frank's unnerving voice.

SCENE from the PLAY: '28 Days, 6 hours...'

ANDREA SHEA: Frank is played by 23 year-old Perry Jackson who's spending more than an hour each night...for the next month...inside a metallic-gray bunny suit.

SOUND of actor getting into the suit...zipper...heavy breathing through mask

PERRY JACKSON: It really is interesting because you start to say What can I do with these evil looking fingernails that can probably scratch through skin, you know, how do I find that?

ANDREA SHEA: The play's designers want to capture the ominous look and feel of the movie...but film critic Dave Wildman, who writes for The Weekly Dig...wonders how the production's writer and director is going to tell the story.

DAVE WILDMAN: It's kind of baffling to take subject matter that is so inherently filmic and to strip it down and try to make drama out of it. I'm fascinated to see how it comes out but it's the kind of thing that I think they've set themselves up to fail. (laughs) I really do.

ANDREA SHEA: Director Marcus Stern adapted the script and says he captures the movie's quick cuts and time shifts by running more than 70 scenes on stage in just over an hour.

MARCUS STERN: One scene is colliding on top of another as another is starting as another is starting, things are happening simultaneously in different parts of the stage to really sort of get a sense of an edited film, so I think the pacing, the short scenes are two of the ways we're trying to bring the pulse of the film onto the stage.

ANDREA SHEA: That pulse is driven by special effects and a plot that takes in suburban teen angst, mental illness, Stephen Hawking's wormholes, and a mysterious book on time travel that Donnie presses one of his teachers to explain.

SCENE from the PLAY: The basic principles of time travel are there. You got your vessel and your portal. And your vessel can be just about anything most likely a space craft. Like a DeLorean?

ANDREA SHEA: The DeLorean is just one of many 80's references in the script that helped make 'Donnie Darko' a cult favorite. The movie flopped in theaters when it came out in 2001, but midnight screenings created a rabid fan base.

PERRY JACKSON: It's one of those times when you watch a movie and you're like 'What was that? What was that really?

ANDREA SHEA: Actor Perry Jackson...the man in the rabbit suit...is a self-proclaimed 'Darkoist.' He first saw the film as an undergrad and video store clerk.

PERRY JACKSON: And just became totally obsessed with it...the 80s music, the Tears for Fears...you know, I loved it, you know?

MUSIC by Tears for Fears

ANDREA SHEA: The folks at the A.R.T, including director Marcus Stern, hope Jackson's peers will come see the play...especially if they're more accustomed to film than footlights.

MARCUS STERN: I think it would be nice if more and more people who wouldn't necessarily come to the theater really came and saw this story and felt like wow, this really is an interesting viable option to see stories live and be in the same room as the story unfolds.

ANDREA SHEA: And who knows...maybe they'll even come back more than once...to creep themselves out...just feet away from a man in a scary rabbit suit.

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea

This program aired on October 31, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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