Review: "Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit" at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Jordan Nickels

How do we find comfort in complete chaos? That is the struggle these character’s face in Daniel Handler’s new play Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit. This ensemble includes a sober playwright, an inexperienced rabbi, and a rabbit ghost played by a struggling actor. Their stories culminated into a whirlwind of scenes that navigate addiction, death, and online dating. While fast-paced and full of intertwining storylines, this play is an accurate depiction of how messy life is and how we make sense of it.

Imaginary Comforts follows three people. Clovis (played by Michael Goorjian), a recovering alcoholic, who is writing a play about the ghost of a dead rabbit from the story his therapist told him. Clovis goes on a date and meets Naomi (played by Marilee Talkington), a clumsy rabbi who is not very good at her job. She is hired for the funeral of the father of Sarah Gold (played by Susan Lynskey). We come to find out that Dr. Marcus Gold, Sarah’s father, is also Clovis’ therapist, which links the three characters into a literal merry-go-round of chaotic stories. But these stories all revolve around the Jewish tale told by Dr. Marcus Gold, of a man who saves a family of rabbits and in return is given a child. The characters involvement in the aftermath of Dr. Gold’s death centers around their interpretation of the rabbit fable: one of redemption, one of sadness, and one of remembrance.

One of this play’s many triumphs is the brilliant use of satire by playwright Daniel Handler. Many know him for his pen name Lemony Snicket and his series of children’s novels, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Like these books, Imaginary Comforts carefully balances humor within a more serious tone to create an impressive dark comedy. The cast contained some brilliant performances, including Susan Lynskey as Sarah Gold, who had great timing and snark to match, and Danny Scheie as Ghost, who had us equally laughing and confused in his first appearance as the dead rabbit. Marilee Talkington as Naomi was as endearing as she was relatable to the audience in her various mishaps. Credit also goes out to the scenic designer, Todd Rosenthal, for the seamless scene changes and rotating set, and to lighting designer Nick Solyom for setting a clear tone to this dark yet disorderly space.

What I enjoyed most about Imaginary Comforts was through all the confusion and chaos stood a very well thought out and relatable story of young adults dealing with the baggage in their lives. This play isn’t about succeeding, though some characters eventually do, but about finding a place to start picking up the pieces. These characters each realize their problems, and like their interpretations of the rabbit story, take their own steps in getting to the other side. The message is life is complicated, but we can find comfort in it and find the solution to reaching our own security.

While I am more familiar with Lemony Snicket, I am thrilled to get to know Daniel Handler and the world he created with Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit. Here is hoping this world premiere finds life outside Berkeley Rep and continues to brilliantly baffle audiences one dead rabbit at a time.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website:, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.

Photo: Kevin Berne