Ms. Kobayashi also wanted to make theatergoers feel part of the discovery process. “I had the opportunity to listen to [the wire] hundreds of times, but I wanted a person coming at it for the first time to be able to connect to it in the same way I did,” she said. “That’s why we went with the format of listening with a transcription. That was the greatest pleasure I had researching it: I just loved listening to it. The voices had so much personality and character.”
Written by Ms. Kobayashi and her husband, the UnionDocs co-founder Christopher Allen, “Say Something Bunny!” falls somewhere between a less invasive version of Sophie Calle’s conceptual forays into personal relationships and obsessive, forensic-minded podcasts and documentaries like “Making a Murderer” or “Serial.”
Except there is no unsolved crime to be dissected here, only utterly banal everyday conversations that become strangely entrancing as Ms. Kobayashi illustrates their cultural context with videos, slides, audio clips and even costumed re-enactments.
When her detective work fell short, she had to make educated guesses, as when she hazarded that a tiny squeak on the second reel belonged to a pet bird. Happily, this was confirmed by a witness Ms. Kobayashi and Mr. Allen managed to track down.
“Alison should really be working for the F.B.I.,” said Larry Newburge, David’s younger brother. Now 78, he is the only person from the recordings still alive.
The creative team located Mr. Newburge in March, after the 2016 premiere of their show in Toronto. “A journalist would have started with, ‘I’m going to find who this person is and get the story from them,’” said Mr. Allen, 37. “But Alison got the story from everything else she could find and put it together.”
Theorizing that Mr. Newburge wasn’t dead only because they had found everybody else’s grave but his, they were keen to get his permission before reopening in New York. So they got on the horn.
Mr. Newburge was nonplused. “My reaction at first was, ‘This is a scam,’” he said over the phone. “But they were very forthcoming. They’re just sweet, thoughtful kids.”
He and his wife, Idelle, gave their blessing and later attended the production. Mr. Newburge recalled that “the thing that got to me was” — he paused, choking up a bit — “when they showed my father’s grave site. That was tough for me.”
“Absence and death are behind the whole tape and performance,” Mr. Allen said. “There’s a séance-y aspect to it, where we’re bringing these ghosts back. As you get into the playful voices in the beginning, you forget these people are gone. There’s an emotional content that comes when you start thinking about what we leave behind in our lives.”
Idelle Newburge had met only two members of her husband’s family: his mother, Juliette, and David. “She knew about my brother’s show that didn’t go over very well, and his pornographic movie that didn’t go over very well,” Mr. Newburge said of his wife.
Now, about that movie … Revealing too much would spoil one of the show’s funniest surprises, so let’s just say that it’s a cult artifact for which David wrote the screenplay. “I found it at Fales Library, at N.Y.U., by looking up the actress,” Ms. Kobayashi said. “Because, of course, female pornography performers have a much bigger following than scriptwriters.”
“Say Something Bunny!” is a happy coda of sorts for Mr. Newburge, who remembers his brother as being “pretty contentious on just about everything, specifically politics.”
“But he was always enamored of theater,” he added. “If he were alive, he would be absolutely in seventh heaven at what these kids have done.”
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