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Rabbit Hole effectively explores grief, family dynamics

Rabbit Hole effectively explores grief, family dynamics

By Peter Frost

Tackling a subject matter as bleak as it is complex, Rabbit Hole, directed by Gregory Culley ’14, opened to a crowded Hill Theater this past Friday. The play, written by David Lindsay-Abaire, rejects overwrought melodrama in favor of informal interaction and an observational style. Rabbit Hole effectively, if not transcendentally, explores a family dynamic distorted by death and held together by hope.

The play tells the story of Becca and Howie, a couple navigating a radically altered suburban landscape after losing their young son Danny in a car accident. The loss of their child creates a distance between the two; the couple takes divergent paths to find a new meaning. After Danny’s death, Howie (Josh Henderson-Cox ’13) finds solace in a support group described by his wife as a bunch of “Jesus freaks.” Becca (Beth Hyland ’13) rejects Howie’s understanding of their loss and instead connects with Jason, clumsily played by Mike Jest ’15, the teenager who was behind the wheel of the car that killed their son. Woven into the fabric of the story are Becca’s sister and mother, (Faith Servant ’13 and Rachel Cunningham ’14, respectively), who act as both a support system and an impetus for Becca’s and Howie’s recovery.

Taking place within the suffocating confines of a house that the couple simultaneously rejects and embraces, the play can, at times, feel stifling. Characters bicker, fight, and argue persistently, trapped as much in their grief as they are within the confines of the staged home. Culley and his production stage manager Molly McCleary ’14 chose to have the proceedings take place entirely within this monument to the once-idyllic family. The bedroom of the deceased son loomed in the background of the set throughout the duration of the production, an effective touch that demonstrates how his memory looms over Danny’s family’s existence.

What makes the immense pain of Rabbit Hole tolerable is its unexpectedly effective sense of humor. Puncturing the dark proceedings with slivers of light, the moments of comedy serve to ease the audience more than the characters do. However, these laughs leave more of a sore bruise than a blithe smile, existing as a smaller part of a much larger, more intimate pain. It is a strange and, at times, jarring juxtaposition, yet it works; there is a verisimilitude in this humor and the way these individuals interact and react to each other.

Hyland and Henderson-Cox turned in serviceable performances as the grieving parents, with Hyland especially finding enough of the sharp and complex edges of her character’s personality to lend Becca a sense of definition if not depth. However, the production’s moments of truth came from its supporting characters and the actors who portray them. Servant embodied Becca’s carefree sister Izzy with more than enough energy to counter the abject bleakness surrounding Becca and Howie. Servant’s character was as essential as she was enjoyable. Becca’s mother Nat, played with a sensitive gravitas by Rachel Cunningham ’14, proved to be the beating heart of Rabbit Hole. In the most moving part of the production, Nat described the way that grief evolved from an overwhelming burden to a comfortable reminder that metaphorically rested in her pocket.

Rabbit Hole is a production that succeeds by its mixture of omnipresent grief and a sense of humor. It never relies on either element too heavily. Treating its characters with sensitivity and veracity, the play’s unpretentious and genuine dynamics ultimately coalesce to form a potent portrait of a family struggling with a grief equally crushing and necessary.

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