Award-winning Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch usually describes her work as anti-autobiographical. But for her latest show, Bunny, which premiered at the Stratford Festival on Aug. 18, she decided to write from within her own context.
“I’ve written a story about one woman’s sexual history. It’s a story about sexual transgressions and desire and shame,” she says.
In the show, the audience meets a woman named Sorrel (played by Maev Beatty) and her various sexual partners, including her high school sweetheart – a football player – and her husband. Through Sorrel, Bunny also explores a close female friendship.
Stratford commissioned this Moscovitch original in 2011 and it’s finally made its way on stage for the 2016 season.
And while Moscovitch is based in Halifax, she’s been living in Stratford for much of the rehearsal process. “I tend to hang out and participate and I can fashion the text towards images the director [Sarah Garton Stanley] is creating,” she says, explaining how she often reworks pieces of text.
In previews, for instance, Moscovitch would sit in the theatre and listen closely to how the crowd reacted to certain moments and lines.
Though one of the most rewarding parts for her has been speaking with women of all ages after the curtain falls.
Many, including those well into their 60s, would approach Moscovitch, telling her they see themselves in Bunny and that they relate to the story on a very personal level.
“So there are a lot of dirty ladies out there is the takeaway,” says Moscovitch with a laugh. “I’m amazed with how many people have come up to me and have been like, ‘this is my life.’ And you know, the play is about sort of transgressive sexual experiences.”
While she never intended to write a timely show, lately, Moscovitch has noticed an increase in people talking about feminism and women’s issues, especially on social media.
“I’ll often see memes on Twitter going around and I’ll be like, wow that could be a logline, a tagline, for the play. And it’s something that Jennifer Aniston just said, or Justin Trudeau just said.”
But talking about sexual empowerment for female-identified people is still somewhat taboo. Some communities, as Moscovitch notes, help individuals replace feelings of sexual shame with pride. But that’s not often the case amongst heterosexual women. “Almost all female sexuality is transgressive still. Just wanting to have sex is transgressive,” she says.
But she was ready to tackle this subject matter. “I think it’s probably right to say that I’m an older playwright now. So I’m less blushy and I’m willing to take on female sexual desire.”
And Moscovitch is no stranger to writing about seemingly hush-hush topics. Her earlier plays have dealt with the children of Nazis and Holocaust survivors as well as with Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.
She’s received a Dora Award, an Ontario Trillium Book Award and she most recently became the first Canadian to win one of Yale University’s Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes—the prize money totaled $150,000(US).
For this fall, she’s working on a new musical with Halifax-based musician Ben Caplan. It’s going to be about Moscovitch’s grandparents Chaya and Chaim who emigrated from Romania back in 1908. She’s also involved with projects in a slew of Canadian and American cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Montreal and Victoria.
Her work, she says, is always implicitly Jewish – even though some plays, like Bunny, might not always be about clear Jewish subjects.
“Jewish playwrights are going after really big existential, metaphysical and political questions,” she says. “As well as good jokes.”
Bunny is on now at the Stratford Festival. For tickets, call 1-800-567-1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca.