Rabbit Hole at New Milford’s Theatre Works

David Begelman

“Rabbit hole,” according to the dictionary, is “a bizarre or difficult state or situation.” The phrase comes from the plight of Lewis Carroll’s character, Alice (of Wonderland and Looking Glass fame). After dropping down a hole, Alice describes her ensuing experiences as “curiouser and curiouser.”

The same might be said about David Lindsay-Abaire’s drama Rabbit Hole, currently being staged by Theatre Works. Winning the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for drama, it wasn’t even nominated for that award. It became a dark horse candidate for the prize only after judges were at a loss in selecting a winner among dramas actually nominated.

The playwright in personal interviews has downplayed differences among his plays. Yet Rabbit Hole is a cut apart from the others. Fuddy Meers (1999) is about a woman who can’t remember yesterdays; Wonder of the World (2000) is about a wife who has to radically reorganize her life after learning about a husband’s dark secret; and Kimberly Akimbo (2000) deals with a 16 year-old with a disorder causing her to age rapidly, a sort of reverse Benjamin Button.

Rabbit Hole is about ordinary people in an ordinary, yet tragic, situation: the accidental death of a child. The playwright considers it to be the result of a challenge to him to author a play about the thing that frightened him the most. One suspects the result was a fantasy spun around what most of us envision as a worse—if not the worst—case family scenario. Mr. Lindsay-Adaire is also a parent.

The drama has six characters, all of whose lives revolve around the sudden death of Danny, the 4 year-old son of Becca (played poignantly by Jackie Decho-Holm) and Howie (whose escalating emotion and conflicts over the event are impressively handled by Kevin Sosbe). The boy was accidentally run over by a car driven by Jason (a sorrowful and touchingly contrite Rob Onorato), who attempts to assuage his guilt by expressing his heartfelt sorrow to the parents.

Other characters in the drama in one way or another touch upon the same theme. Izzy (in a fetching and humorous portrayal by Heather Nicholson as the dysfunctional, and occasionally combative, but insightful sister), announces to Becca that she has recently become pregnant, news that is bound to underscore the latter’s sense of loss.

Little Danny’s grandmother, the sometime intrusive Nat (played with just the right cocktail of seeming insensitivity masking inner grief, by Sonnie Osborne) is a character who repeats the motif. She too has lost a son, Arthur, 11 years prior to her daughter’s loss, and her frequent asides to Becca, while ham-fisted on the surface, come from a sympathetic core. She feels that Becca will eventually recover from the tragedy—quicker, if she would only knuckle down in ways her mother recommends.

Ms. Decho-Holm and Mr. Hosbe are impressive in the mounting conflict they experience over things that remind each of them of their son Danny. Howie grows furious over what he interprets as Becca’s intention to erase Danny’s memory, an anger fueled by her withdrawing sexually from him since the accident. She wishes to place the home up for sale, get rid of the dog, and give away Danny’s toys and clothes. She also accidently erases a video of Danny, an act Howie feels is a like-minded effort to nullify the memory of their son.

Rabbit Hole, as a drama about a family becoming unglued, is constructed well. It develops dramatic conflict with an appropriately paced momentum, and has the virtue of reechoing different versions of the same theme of loss among its characters. Nonetheless, it tends to radiate a sense of the expectable in scenarios of grief and loss, as if the playwright was fashioning an embodiment of what we all would inevitably go through in similar situations. The play has a tendency to be formulaic in precisely this way, although there is no denying Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s talent as a craftsman.

Director Susan Pettibone was the guiding and accomplished director of the production, while Erik D. Diaz’s scenic design (with the capable assistance Scott Wyshynski’s team) was perfectly suited to the single-set idea of Rabbit Hole. Richard Pettibone’s multi-tasking as producer, builder, light and sound designer, and photographer enhanced production values already in plentiful evidence. Incidental music by John Gromada was also the sound track in the Broadway production of the play.

Rabbit Hole opened on February 20, 2009, and continues until March 14, 2009 at New Milford’s Theatre Works, at 5 Brookside Avenue, New Milford, CT. Curtain time is 8:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, with a 2:00 PM matinee on March 8. Tickets for all shows are $20.00 for reserved seating. Reservations can be made online at www.theatreworks.us, or by calling the box office at (860)-350-6863.

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