Friday, October 24, 2008

'Rabbit Hole' looks at grief with heart, wit and honesty

M&D's first production in its new location continues its run

“Rabbit Hole,” M&D Productions' first show at its new Your Theatre location in Willow Common in North Conway, N.H. has no connection to Lewis Carroll, Alice, a wonderland or a looking glass. Rather it is a story of a couple dealing with the loss of their 4-year-old son following a tragic accident.

“Rabbit Hole,” which will be running Oct. 24, Oct. 25, Oct. 30, Nov. 1, Nov. 6. Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m., won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2007. Tickets range from $15 to $20 and can be purchased by calling 662-7591. Discounts are available for students, patrons under 18 and seniors. For more information visit

The script by David Lindsay-Abraire is not nearly as depressing as the subject matter would have you believe. Oh, there are scenes with the potential to yield tears, but there is also a surprising amount of humor. The way the script addresses themes of finding comfort and how to grieve doesn’t feel cloying or manipulative. There is truth and honesty to the show that is never preachy or heavy-handed.

As the play opens, it is eight months after the death of Becca and Howie Corbett’s (Jane Duggan and Kevin O’Neil) son, Danny. Becca’s rebellious sister Izzy (Carrie Engfer) has just become pregnant, which stirs up mixed emotions. Nat (Jill Davis), Becca’s well-intentioned mother, desperately tries to help her daughter find solace, but her efforts are often rebuked with frustrated anger.

In the production notes, director Richard Russo described the experience of first reading the play as if he were “hiding in the Corbett’s house, eavesdropping on their most intimate conversations.” Russo brings that quality to his production by having an intimate set that audience members could walk right into if they had the nerve. Clearly this is not advised.

The set, designed by M&D executive director Mark Delancey, is a realistic depiction of a house with what appears to be a fully functional kitchen, a quaint living room and Danny’s bedroom left unchanged and always behind the characters.

Realistic is the keyword in describing the play. Often theater dialogue sounds scripted or stylized, which is fine, but it can create a certain distance between the show and audience. Lindsay-Abraire’s dialogue has an unforced, natural flow that includes all the ums, yeahs and ya knows and awkward pauses that fill average everyday speech. It is easy to be drawn into these characters’ lives.

The cast delivers this dialogue with a just-right naturalistic rhythm and handles the complex emotional shifts with a light touch. Duggan’s Becca is not dealing with her grief well, which is manifesting itself in a bitterness that slowly subsides as the show proceeds.

O’Neil’s Howie at first seems to have it together. He hides behind a dry, sarcastic wit that masks the tumultuous grief that he is still dealing with. This façade begins to crack when an accident destroys one of Howie’s favorite reminders of Danny. It is shattered when Jason (Ged Owen), the teen that killed Danny in a car accident, comes by the house in an attempt to make amends and deal with his own anguish.

These are not easy emotions to deal with, and Duggan and O’Neil, who both break down and cry at points in the show, address them with a lot of humanity. Their performances and emotions feel genuine.

Their supporting cast is equal to them. Engfer brings an appropriate level of blunt but not-unsympathetic attitude to Izzy, and Davis makes Nat kooky and sweet. Davis has a powerful monologue about how the pain of a lost child never goes away, but changes and in an odd way becomes reassuring.

Owen shares a great scene with Duggan that gives the play its name and its sense of closure. Lindsay-Abraire doesn’t tie everything together neatly; after all, there are no easy answers when it comes to grief. Instead, he ends the show with a quietly uplifting hope that life will be able to go on.

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