Rabbit Hole Satisfies on all Levels

By Geary Danihy

Forget about gas prices. Throw a couple of extra gallons into the tank and get up to Hartford TheaterWorks to see Rabbit Hole, David Linday-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning play that, in this fine production, is probably the most enjoyable, emotionally gripping evening of theater you will experience all year.

Directed by Rob Ruggiero, TheaterWorks associate artistic director, Rabbit Hole is the story of Becca (the superlative Erika Rolfsrud) and Howie (Dylan Chalfy), a couple attempting to deal with the loss of their young son who was hit by a car driven by Jason (Alec Silberblatt) a high school senior. It sounds grim, and there are many emotionally-charged moments, but they are not unrelieved, for Lindsay-Abaire has also filled his play with a great deal of humor, much of it generated by Becca’s younger sister, Izzy (Joey Parsons), and her mother, Nat (Jo Twiss).

The cast is, across the board, extremely talented. Chalfy does a commendable job as the husband who is trying to keep his marriage together and break through his wife’s frigidity and iron control, both a response to the death of their son. At times desperate, at other times on the brink of exploding, Chalfy creates an utterly believable portrait of a young husband unsure of how to save his relationship with his wife.

Parsons and Twiss are just about letter-perfect, with Parsons giving Izzy a certain manic silliness that balances her more rebellious, unreliable side, and Twiss offering a lovely, controlled performance as a mother who must gentle her older daughter into accepting her tragic loss and become willing to reach out again to life.

As the high school senior, Silberblatt is dead-on as an emotionally insecure, awkward young man who turns to the family to try and resolve his involvement in the death of the young boy.

All of their fine stage work is enhanced by Rolfsrud’s quite remarkable performance. At times you can see her body quiver as she creates a woman so intent on controlling her emotions and determined to “see it through” on her own that you want to reach out, embrace her and draw away some of the pain. Yet Becca is not a one-dimensional character, and Rolfsrud’s work allows the audience to see flickers of the woman Becca was before the tragedy, a woman who slowly reappears as Rolfsrud gracefully and intelligently loosens some of the emotional chains she has wound about her character. This culminates in a wonderful scene with Silberblatt near the end of the play in which Rolfsrud slowly yet inexorably releases the pain and sorrow that has been dammed up for so long.

Much of the credit for the production’s hold on the audience must also go to Ruggiero. As Steve Campo, TheaterWorks executive director, did with Doubt, Ruggiero has trimmed the “air” between the lines so that the dialogue is extremely tight, which gives the production the feel of an express train rushing towards its highly satisfying emotional conclusion. This effect is heightened by Ruggiero having the cast clear and set props as they enter and exit between scenes. Not a moment is lost in this intelligently directed production. Though the play runs just over two hours it certainly doesn’t feel that way. From what I could see, the audience “got on board” minutes into the opening scene and stayed glued to their seats (save for the single intermission) for the entire evening.

Notice must also be given to the rather impressive set that Luke Hegel-Cantarella has created. Those who have seen other TheaterWorks’ productions will be suitably impressed with what Hegel-Cantarella has managed to do with the limited space available. TheaterWorks often opts for a presentational approach to scenic design, with the set designers “suggesting” the setting, but in this case Hegel-Cantarella has chosen to create a full representational set. In doing so, his work helps to heighten the intimacy between the audience and the characters – the audience is in this couple’s home sharing what goes on behind closed doors.

All in all, TheaterWorks’ production of Rabbit Hole is satisfying on just about every level, including the emotional level, for the final moment of the play touches the heartstrings in a way few plays do.

Rabbit Hole runs through Sunday, July 20. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to www.theaterworkshartford.org.

To see what other critics think of this production or to learn what’s playing at other theaters around Connecticut go to www.ctcritics.org.

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