Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: APRIL 10, 2009
It all started as an academic challenge. ‘Write about the thing that frightens you most.’ Years later, long after he had graduated from Juilliard, playwright David Lindsay- Abaire was the father of a three year-old, and he wrote about the most terrifying thing he could think of: the loss of a child.
In “Rabbit Hole,” when four year-old Danny ran into the street to chase after his dog, he was hit by a car driven by a high school senior. Eight months later, the family is still adrift, lost in some parallel universe, trying to figure or find their way out. Frequently punctuated by humor, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is a study of grief, of family, of moving on. It’s a quiet play. Most of what’s really being thought is unspoken, so the conversation is something of a veneer, and the silences run very deep. The unease is palpable. And the turning point comes at a moment of supreme awkwardness and pain, when the brokenhearted mother is visited by the emotionally stricken teen, who’s also drifting, also lugging around a profound sense of guilt. It’s only through the discomfort of the confrontation that we have a glimmer of hope for this damaged family.
It’s a beautifully nuanced play, graceful, subtle and restrained, revealing layer upon layer of grief, family relationship and mis -communication. The most seemingly innocent comment, anecdote or wisecrack is potentially incendiary, a touchstone for anger, upset or resentment. Anyone who’s experienced the death of a loved one will feel some stab of recognition, because the writing is so piercing and authentic, the range of reactions so real.
Becca wants to pack up every trace of her son, move out of the house and wipe away all physical memories. Her husband Howie , on the other hand, sneaks downstairs every night and compulsively watches the videos of Danny at play. Becca’s scattered and scatterbrained sister Izzy shakes things up with her wild escapades and her unexpected pregnancy. Their overbearing mother keeps being reminded of the loss of her own son, eleven years ago. But Becca will brook no comparison or competition.
The piece requires a delicate touch, a sturdy ensemble, a fine sense of comedy and a deft ability to fill those fraught silences. At North Coast Repertory Theatre, director Stephen Elton has scored on all counts. Although every character is saddled with self-absorption and isolation, there’s a generosity of spirit on that stage; no scene-stealers or scenery chewers. Each of the excellent actors creates a credible and sympathetic character. And as we take this journey along with this fractured family, we find a coming together at the end, an understated sense of promise. It’s not all neatly tied up, but it’s not grim and hopeless, either . We walk out touched by the experience, and sometimes that’s catharsis enough.
“Rabbit Hole” runs through April 26 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach .
©2009 PAT LAUNER