Bunny Lake Is Missing

This is not your grandfather's "Bunny Lake Is Missing." The title is remembered, if at all, as a stylish 1965 Otto Preminger neo-noir film, with Carol Lynley and Laurence Olivier darting around London in search of her 3-year-old and encountering deception, depravity, and arty camera angles. It turns out that Preminger and screenwriters John and Penelope Mortimer took enormous liberties with the 1957 Evelyn Piper novel on which they based the material. This Brick Theater production, written and directed by Ken Simon, goes back to the source and fails on several levels.

Piper set her novel not in Swinging London but on the Upper East Side. So now Blanche Lake (Victoria Anne Miller) storms a snooty preschool and most of the East 80s in search of her missing tot, whose very existence is called into question by skeptical supporting players. They too differ markedly from those in the movie. Olivier's kindly-but-doubting inspector is now a kindly-but-doubting psychiatrist (Simon); Blanche's creepy, kinky neighbor, a memorable Noël Coward in the film, is now a sharp-tongued Manhattan writer (Walter Brandes); and her weird brother, central to the mystery of Bunny's whereabouts, is now her offstage mother. Go figure.

The trouble is that the story sprawls too broadly to fit comfortably within the Brick's narrow walls. Many supporting characters, and sometimes Blanche herself, are prerecorded voices with which live actors must interact. The transitions between live and recorded are jarring, and there are timing problems. (There's also a frequently inappropriate movie-music-style score by Chris Chappell.) The many scene changes are protracted and clumsy: Two unfortunate actors take an eternity to move a chair or desk a couple of feet, adding maybe 10 minutes to a running time that totals 70 minutes but still feels long. Bunny, when she's finally found, is played by a life-size puppet—fine for "War Horse," but clearly a matter of convenience and budget here. And Candace Lawrence and Alaine Livingston's costumes are so inconsistent that I couldn't tell whether we're in 1957 or 1965.

It's not the fault of Miller, who tries hard and often succeeds at conveying the panic and desperation of a terrified parent. And the sociological details of the period—the stigma of unmarried motherhood, the attitudes about psychiatry—are compelling. But under Simon's slow staging, the plot points accumulate listlessly and don't result in much emotional payoff. The guy behind me kept snoring, and I had to keep turning around to jab him awake. But I doubt I was missing much.

Presented by the Brick Theater and Ken Simon at the Brick Theater, 575 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. Jan. 5–14. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.bricktheater.com.