Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Joshua Bishoff
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Donít pretend that he is isnít there."
It is right to assume that when a play receives the Pulitzer Prize it is a very good play. It is also right to assume that this is due to the play itself and not the people in it or the production values of its principal presentation; it is the play.
David Lindsay-Abaireís Pulitzer Prize winner, the 2006 "Rabbit Hole" is not quite what one assumes it to be. It is definitely a departure from his earlier works like "Fuddy Meers," or "Wonder of the World," vapid pieces that left me completely cold when I saw them. Here is a play that deals with a difficult, human problem: the loss of a child. It is certainly a topic that should be prize-worthy if it is addressed with sensitivity and clarity. Lindsay-Abaire addresses the sensitivity in his characters, but somewhere along the way loses the clarity.
In its current regional production at Main Street Stage in North Adams by the community theater producing organization Mill City Productions, the odd disparities emerge in the characters with a bump and whistle. The play unfolds slowly, the information we need to know emerging in a natural, normal conversational way. There is nothing artificial here and that works well. Two sisters, Izzy, a hard-living fey young woman played by Amelia Wood and Becca, the sorrowful, overly-controlled housewife played by Liz Urban, are conversing at the kitchen table while Becca does laundry chores. The chatter is convivial if strained which tells us a great deal about their relationship. The style of playing is natural, non-acted, normal; we are literally the flies the on the wall in a real-life situation. The only problem with this style is the lack of real relationship between the women, as one line ends, thereís a pause, and thereís another line recited from memory. The stagnation only calls into question the process these women use to communicate. Too much naturalism makes for very little theater.
Beccaís husband Howie, played by Chad Therrien, is equally low-key about conversation and it isnít until Nat, the mother of the two girls, fires up the flaring charcoal of this dark comedy with her wit and superb timing - in the hands of actress Jackie DiGiorgis - that the story begins to truly take hold on both participants and audience. The tragedy in the lives of Becca and Howie finally takes center stage and the rest of the play revolves around it.
However, and this is a big playwright however, in the final scene of the first act we discover that the sensitive, strong and seemingly snowball of a husband is actually the angry grieving partner who has lost his grip on reality. This sudden turnabout in character is where the clarity begins to falter and the play becomes a semi-maudlin exercise, certainly not - to my mind - Pulitzer material unless the concept of self-deception and its influence on the people around the self-deluded is really the playís intended target as a subject.
As if to make that the real point, there is also a young high school student, responsible for the accidental death of the child, who grabs attention through the emotionally riveting performance of Trevor Foehl. His Jason becomes a focal point in a monologue in act one and two brief scenes in act two. If Therrien could have found and played the heat in the emotional writing given him for his meeting with the boy things might have felt much more dynamic and real than they did on opening night.
As directed by Bishoff this company gives us extraordinary moments and scenes but not a fully realized consistent show. He has used the awkward space at Main Street well, utilizing a second level upstage for a different location and splitting the forestage into two discreet playing areas. He has clearly given much attention to the character of Jason, but has not brought together the interplay between Izzy and Becca. He could easily cut six or seven minutes off the running time of the play by tightening their conversational style. He does allow each character the laughs that come with Lindsay-Abaireís lines, though, and that is a relief in a play with such a dark subject to investigate.
The look of the show is consistent with its writing and its locale. The lighting was a bit off, but that can happen on opening night and a few touch-ups will solve those problems easily.
What is best in this production are the three performances that emotionally bind the audience to the characters, the mother as DiGiorgis plays her, the boy in the talented hands of Foehr and the vain and foolish sister who knows more than she realizes about life as portrayed by Wood.
Urban and Therrien are very good together but do not play well with others. Perhaps that is part of the message here about a child whoís life is cut short through accidental neglect: "Iíll see what I can dig up on E-Bay" Becca says at one point. Less E-Bay and more active involvement, I say.
This is an interesting play with a whole host of messages. Itís not an easy play. It doesnít seem to me to be the best play of the year, but it certainly isnít the worst one - far from it. What it is, right now, is an antidote to Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas shopping. although it will help you to appreciate, even more, what is good in your own life, your own relationships.
Chad Therrien, Liz Urban, Jackie DiGiorgis, Amelia Wood in Rabbit Hole; photo provided
Wood and Urban; photo provided
a nuclear family about to explode; photo provided
RABBIT HOLE, a Mill City Productions presentation, plays at Main Street Stage in North Adams, MA Friday and Saturday nights at 8 and Sundays at 2 through December 16. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. For reservations, call 413-663-3211 or contact them at www.millcityproductions.org.